Reaching marine conservation targets

Foundational principles

Foundational principles

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 knowledge shared by Indigenous peoples and local knowledge shared by the fishing industry and communities adjacent to the area.

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 are the foundations of the approach. Indigenous groups, industry and other stakeholders have 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.

The targets

The targets

In 2010, Canada committed to the marine conservation targets established under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD). This agreement, commonly referred to as Aichi Target 11, commits Canada to conserving 10 percent of coastal and marine areas through effectively managed networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2020. These objectives were 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).

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.

The G7 Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities further committed Canada and other developed countries to supporting strategies to effectively protect and manage vulnerable areas of our oceans and resources through the establishment of effective and science-based MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures.

The Government of Canada has supported these commitments with the most significant investments in a generation:

  • $81 million over five years specifically to support achieving the 5% and 10% marine conservation targets;
  • $40 million per year increase in fisheries and oceans science, including 135 new scientists and a new science partnership with universities and other institutions; and
  • $1.5 billion over five years for oceans protection which includes support for coastal restoration, emergency response, and much more.
The plan

The plan

Canada’s five point plan to meet marine conservation targets was announced on June 8, 2016, and is as follows:

1. Finish what was started:

  • Advance the work already underway in areas progressing towards establishment as marine protected areas

2. Protect large areas:

  • Establish new, large Oceans Act marine protected areas (MPAs) in offshore areas

3. Protect areas under pressure

  • Establish additional Oceans Act MPAs in areas under pressure from human activities, for example, in 5 priority marine bioregions: Northern Shelf, Western Arctic, Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, Scotian Shelf and Newfoundland-Labrador Shelves

4. Advance Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures:

  • Identify existing and establish new other effective area-based conservation measures, such as Marine Refuges.

5. Establishing MPAs faster and more effectively:

  • Propose amendments to the Oceans Act to facilitate a designation process for MPAs that would provide critical interim protection to vulnerable areas while scientific research and consultation take place.

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 the Parks Canada Agency 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 and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries are established by Environment and Climate Change Canada for wildlife conservation, research, and interpretation. Activities that are prohibited and authorized vary by site.

When the marine components of National Wildlife Areas, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, and National Parks include a marine component, those aspects can be counted as MPAs.

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



To date, Canada has established 14 MPAs under the Oceans Act, three National Marine Conservation Areas, one marine National Wildlife Area, and 59 marine refuges. These areas contribute to protecting 13.81% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas.

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