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Canada's National Network of Marine Protected Areas – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What is a 'Marine Protected Area' (MPA)?


In the context of Canada's national network of MPAs, a marine protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated, and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values. The term MPA is used very broadly to encompass a range of federal, provincial and territorial protected areas with marine components.

What an MPA protects depends on its conservation objective. An MPA may be created to protect sensitive areas, special or unique marine features, areas of high productivity or representative examples of marine habitats. When used in conjunction with other Integrated Oceans Management tools, MPAs can help restore our oceans to their natural state and protect marine environments from future degradation.

What is a network of MPAs?


A network of MPAs is a collection of individual MPAs that operates cooperatively and synergistically, at various spatial scales, and with a range of protection levels, in order to fulfill ecological aims more effectively and comprehensively than individual sites could alone.

MPAs in a network are linked ecologically or functionally, but not necessarily physically, in order to achieve a set of broader network objectives. Network objectives are additional to site-specific objectives set for individual MPAs.

Will one MPA network cover all of Canada's oceans?


Canada's national network of MPAs will be composed of 13 bioregional networks—12 within Canada's oceans, one in the Great Lakes. All of these bioregional networks will share a common foundation, including vision, goals, principles, design properties and eligibility criteria, as outlined in the National Framework for Canada's Network of Marine Protected Areas. Each bioregional network will be designed to suit its own unique geography, management tools, and ecological and socio-economic objectives.

Why establish a network of MPAs?


The network concept corresponds to the highly interconnected quality of our oceans' life systems and allows the pieces of the ocean “puzzle” to stay intact and connected, even when not in close proximity. A network better protects spatially separate but highly linked habitats – such as those needed by migratory marine mammals to complete life stages like calving or nursing, and by migratory seabirds for breeding and feeding. Effective networks also protect representative examples of habitat types in a region, as well as special or unique areas and features.

There are three goals for the national MPA network:

  1. To provide long-term protection of marine biodiversity, ecosystems and special natural features. (primary goal)
  2. To support the conservation and management of Canada's living marine resources and their habitats, and the socio-economic values and ecosystem services they provide.
  3. To enhance public awareness and appreciation of Canada's marine environments and rich maritime history and culture.

MPA network development is the most strategic approach to reaching our conservation goals, but MPA networks are only part of the solution. For maximum effectiveness, a range of complementary measures (e.g., industry stewardship and best practices, fishery closures, species at risk critical habitat) must also be employed, as part of Canada’s overall ecosystem approach to oceans management.

Will all activities be restricted within MPAs in the network?


No. Not all MPAs are no-take areas (areas where all extractive activities are prohibited) or include no-take zones. At times, no-take zones may be needed, for example to protect the most sensitive or important components of marine ecosystems. Activities can generally continue in MPAs, as long as these activities are not harmful to what the MPA is designed to protect. Activities must be aligned with MPA conservation objectives and MPA zoning.

The establishment of zones within MPAs is an increasingly popular way to provide the greatest level of protection for the most important part of an MPA. Zoning means that while there may be no-take zones within an MPA, other zones will allow different levels of human activities. MPA zones are established in consultation with partners and stakeholders—and both ecological and socio-economic goals are taken into consideration.

How long will it take to establish the network?


An overarching and strategic National Framework for Canada's Network of Marine Protected Areas was submitted to the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers for approval in September 2011. The National Framework will guide the design of bioregional MPA networks, as well as the drafting of bioregional MPA network plans. The design phase may take several years since it is an inclusive process that involves consultation with many groups. In the meantime, establishment of new MPAs may continue outside of bioregional design and planning processes, but will be consistent with national network principles, etc.

Implementation of the bioregional network plans will progress over time and as resources allow. Ultimately, the network will include as many protected areas and other kinds of management tools as are needed to achieve bioregional network objectives.

How many areas are already included in Canada's MPA network?


As of International Oceans Day (8 June) in 2011, there were 809 MPAs in place that could contribute to Canada's national network of MPAs. Of these, 84 are federal MPAs established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada and Environment Canada. These organizations have different but complementary legislative mandates for MPA establishment. Most (713) are provincial and territorial coastal protected areas that have marine components that are considered to be MPAs. An additional twelve are non-governmental or co-managed marine areas. There are also other spatial management tools such as fisheries closures that can contribute to conservation of the marine environment, but these have yet to be inventoried. Guidance and criteria for what constitutes an “other measure” is under development internationally, and in Canada.

What information will be used to propose areas for inclusion in the bioregional MPA networks?


In marine areas where Integrated Oceans Management processes are ongoing, identified Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas; Species and Community Properties; and areas of known socio-economic and cultural importance will form the building blocks of the network design. Internationally-recognized network design criteria and properties (e.g., representativity, connectivity, replication, adequacy and viability) and social and economic considerations will then guide network designers in identifying the best sites to address the network objective(s) being targeted. Following a gap analysis exercise, areas not yet protected or requiring additional protection will be identified and the best management measures selected.

What percentage of the oceans will be targeted for protection within the network?


Canada agreed to marine conservation targets established in 2010 under the Convention on Biological Diversity (Aichi Targets), and in 2015 under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Aichi Target 11 calls on jurisdictions to conserve 10% of coastal and marine environments through effectively managed networks of protected areas and “other effective area-based conservation measures” (other measures) by 2020. Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development call for the conservation of at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. These international targets have been incorporated into Canada’s Biodiversity Targets (#1). Meeting the 10% targets are not the endpoint of MPA network development. Rather, they are reporting targets that provide a means for measuring and reporting Canada’s progress in establishing conservation measures. Canada is employing an objectives-based approach to MPA network development, where the total conservation area coverage required to achieve network goals and objectives will be determined through bioregional network development processes. Thus, there is no formal percentage target for total area coverage to be reached at the bioregional level.

Why are multiple areas in need of protection?


A broad range of “human induced-pressures” negatively impact the marine environment or threaten specific elements of that environment. These pressures include marine animal mortality, whale strikes, nutrient overloading and eutrophication, climate change, habitat destruction and pollution (including noise pollution), etc.

In some cases a single MPA may be needed to protect a particular habitat or species from a specific pressure or threat (e.g., protection of productive coral areas from fishing impacts). In other cases, replicate MPAs may be needed for insurance against catastrophic events, and to improve the overall resilience of the marine environment so that it can better withstand the cumulative impacts of multiple pressures and maintain healthy ecological functions (e.g., spawning area, feeding areas, protection of representative areas, important habitats, larval sources).

While individual MPAs can provide localized, site-specific benefits, a strategically designed MPA network can scale benefits up to the regional level.

How do the five Large Oceans Management Areas (LOMAs) and the 13 MPA network bioregions relate to each other?


Canada’s 13 bioregions were identified in 2009, based on the ecological characteristics of these areas. MPA networks will be developed in these bioregions, and network development is currently underway in five priority bioregions (Pacific Northern Shelf, Western Arctic (Beaufort Sea), Newfoundland-Labrador Shelves, Scotian Shelf, and Gulf of St. Lawrence). These bioregions have very similar boundaries to that of Canada’s Large Oceans Management Areas. Canada's five LOMAs were established as initial pilot areas for moving forward with Integrated Oceans Management.

The 13 bioregional boundaries were identified scientifically based on physical and biological properties of the marine environment.MPA network planning will occur at the full bioregional scale and will not be confined to the five existing LOMAs. However, established integrated management mechanisms and processes, such as regional oceans and coastal management committees and stakeholder advisory committees, will be used in network planning where possible to avoid duplication of existing governance bodies.

In areas where LOMA governance structures do not currently exist, working with other regional committees to build a network planning team will be an important first step.

How are Canadians involved in MPA network planning?


The draft National Framework for Canada's Network of Marine Protected Areas was posted online for public review from early December 2010 to late February 2011. Some 63 comments or lengthier submissions were received from organizations, groups or individuals from a range of sectors, and the National Framework was subsequently revised in response. A number of public engagement opportunities also occurred throughout the drafting process, including presentations to a variety of national and regional organizations. Now that the National Framework has been finalized, bioregional MPA network planning is underway. An early step will be to identify and invite additional government bodies, Aboriginal groups, stakeholders and other interested parties to be directly involved in the MPA network development process from the onset and throughout, building on existing knowledge, governance structures and processes.

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