Meeting Canada’s Marine Conservation Targets
2017 and 2020

In 2010, Canada agreed to marine conservation targets established under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to conserve 10 percent of coastal and marine areas through effectively managed networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2020. This is commonly referred to as Aichi Target 11. This commitment was reconfirmed in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under Goal 14.

On September 1, 2011, Canada's federal, provincial and territorial members of the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers reviewed and approved in principle the National Framework for Canada's Network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

On May 15, 2015, the National Conservation Plan was launched to provide $252 million over five years to advance progress in three priority areas, including conserving Canada’s lands and waters through safeguarding and enhancing biodiversity and ecosystems through conservation and stewardship actions, including on working landscapes and seascapes.

In the 2016 Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed their commitment to meet the global target of increasing the proportion of marine and coastal areas protected to 10 percent by 2020. They also committed to take concrete steps to substantially surpass these national goals in the coming years.

On June 8, 2016, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced the Government of Canada’s commitment to put in place a plan to reach its domestic and international marine conservation targets of protecting 5 percent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10 percent by 2020.

There are five areas of actions to support reaching Canada’s marine conservation targets:

Canada’s approach to achieving the marine conservation targets is guided by three foundational principles: science-based decision making; transparency; and, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous groups.

1. Science-Based Decision Making

The ability to understand and protect marine ecosystems depends on the ability to bring together diverse and complex sources of information based on solid science, which in turn depends on rigorous peer review.

Other key information sources include traditional ecological knowledge shared by Indigenous peoples and knowledge shared by the fishing industry and local communities.

2. Transparency

Achieving Canada’s marine conservation targets will require an “all in” effort, involving cooperation with other federal government departments, provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, industry, academia, and environmental non-governmental organizations.

Engagement, consultation and collaboration would be the foundation of the approach. Indigenous groups, industry and other stakeholders would be given meaningful opportunities to provide their input to meeting marine conservation targets.

3. Advancing Reconciliation with Indigenous Groups

The process to meet our marine conservation targets would also respect treaties in existence and support advancing the completion of modern treaties under development.

Traditional knowledge would be sought out to highlight the importance of an area and its resources to the culture, traditions and economy for local communities and help inform decisions related to MPA establishment and management.

Government of Canada Tools for Marine Protection

Fisheries and Oceans Canada establishes Oceans Act Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect and conserve marine species, habitats and/or ecosystems, which are ecologically significant and/or distinct. The nature of the activities allowed or prohibited within a MPA depends on the area’s conservation objectives. Economic opportunities that are compatible with these conservation objectives are typically allowed within the protected area or within specific zones of the protected area.

National Marine Conservation Areas (NCMAs) established by Parks Canada protect and conserve representative samples of Canada’s oceans and Great Lakes for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. NMCAs are required to include at least two types of zones: one that fosters and encourages ecologically sustainable use and another that fully protects special features or sensitive elements of ecosystems.

National Wildlife Areas are established by Environment and Climate Change Canada for wildlife conservation, research, and interpretation. Activities that are prohibited and authorized vary by site.

To learn more about marine areas already protected by the Government of Canada and provinces, please visit the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators website.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Government of Canada’s commitments on marine conservation?


The Government of Canada has committed to increasing the proportion of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected to 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020, supported by new investments in science and community consultation.

How will Canada reach its marine conservation targets?


Canada will reach its national and international marine conservation targets by doing the following:

  • Advance work already underway in areas progressing towards establishment, including the proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area, and the Laurentian Channel, St. Anns Bank and Banc des Américains proposed Oceans Act Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The Government of Canada designated two new MPAs since announcing this plan: the Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam MPA in November 2016 and the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs in February 2017;
  • Establish new, large Oceans Act Marine Protected Areas in pristine offshore areas;
  • Establish additional Oceans Act Marine Protected Areas in areas under pressure from human activities, for example where we are already advancing Marine Protected Area network development;
  • Identify existing and establish new kinds of conservation measures, such as closing fisheries in waters that are home to sensitive sponges and corals;
  • Examine how the Oceans Act can be updated to facilitate the designation process for Marine Protected Areas, without sacrificing science, or the public’s opportunity to provide input.
What is a Marine Protected Area?


Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are geographically defined areas in the marine environment that are dedicated and managed in an effort to conserve and protect unique areas, ecologically significant species and their habitats, and representative marine environments. Fisheries and Oceans Canada designates Marine Protected Areas under the Oceans Act.

What are “other effective area-based conservation measures”?


International and domestic biodiversity targets refer to the inclusion of “other effective area-based conservation measures”, or “other measures”. Guidance on what constitutes an “other measure” is still under development through the Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and domestically through the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas. It is anticipated that “other measures” will be characterized as being protected-area like, as defined by the IUCN, in that they must effectively contribute to the long-term conservation of biodiversity.

How many MPAs has the Government of Canada established to date?


The Government of Canada established approximately 85 areas that protect marine and Great Lakes waters.

  • Fifteen of these have an especially strong marine focus:
    • Eight are Oceans Act MPAs established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
    • Four are National Marine Conservation Areas established by the Parks Canada.
    • Three are National Wildlife Areas with significant marine portions, established by Environment and Climate Change Canada.
How much more of Canada’s oceans estate will need to be conserved in order to reach the international and domestic targets?


To meet the targets, Canada will need to conserve an additional 237,000 km2 by 2017, and a further 287,500 km2 by 2020: an area roughly equivalent to the size of the Atlantic Provinces (525,000 km2).

What kind of changes to the Oceans Act would facilitate the designation process for Marine Protected Areas?


One option bring considered is to develop a two-stage approach where an area requiring protection would first be delineated according to science and initial consultations with no additional activities in the area. A management plan would then be established within a set period providing the long-term framework for allowable and prohibited activities moving forward. Any options would be subject to further discussion and consultation.

What are the measurable benefits of Marine Protected Areas?


Benefits of the establishment of Marine Protected Areas have been well documented for both tropical and temperate waters. They can:

  • help to replenish stocks and ensure that commercially important species may be sustainably harvested;
  • protect important habitats such as breeding, foraging, rearing and nursery grounds;
  • help with climate change adaptation;
  • enhance biodiversity and enhance the ability of nearby areas to recover from disturbances;
  • maintain and develop tourism and leisure activities;
  • expand knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystems.
How does bioregional MPA network planning contribute to Canada’s marine conservation targets?


Bioregional network objectives and conservation priorities will be identified through regional processes which are underway. These priorities will be used to identify areas to protect in consultation with interested parties. In some cases, MPAs identified through bioregional MPA networks will contribute to Canada’s marine conservation targets. Sites identified in bioregional network designs will be prioritized for protection and will support longer term efforts to protect the biological diversity and health of the marine environment for present and future generations.

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