Guidance and Lessons Learned for Canada's Marine Protected Area Networks

Proceedings of a national workshop held in Ottawa in January 2008

1.0 Background

1.1 MPA Networks

Within the world maritime community, recognition is growing about the importance of networking marine protected areas (MPAs) as an effective means of protecting critical stages in the life cycle of migratory species. At the same time, a recognized need exists to achieve biodiversity conservation at ecologically relevant scales to ensure that ecosystem processes are preserved.

These needs have translated into the following definition of an MPA network, which is commonly used within the international MPA community:Footnote 1

"A collection of individual marine protected areas 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."

Various definitions of an MPA network exist that emphasize the interconnectivity between individual MPAs as an effective way to fulfill ecological goals. The Government of Canada stresses the need to develop Canada's MPA networks within the context of integrated oceans management.

Planning MPA networks within a larger context of integrated management helps identify the core areas that need greatest protection, ensure sustainability, and create functionally connected MPA networks that are consistent with other management regimes already in place in the area (e.g., fisheries management, port and maritime transport management).

As the role and potential of MPAs and MPA networks become better understood and more sophisticated, their planning becomes increasingly more challenging. Continued expansion of existing activities (e.g., maritime transport and recreation) and the rise of new activities (e.g., offshore wind farms, wave energy fields, offshore aquaculture) in the ocean accelerate the challenge.

1.2 Canada's International Commitment to Establish MPA Networks

International calls for the creation of a global network of MPAs have existed for over 20 years. In 1988 the 17th International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) General Assembly (San José, Costa Rica) adopted a recommendation that called on international bodies and all nations to establish a global representative system of MPAs to provide for the protection, restoration, wise use, understanding, and enjoyment of the marine heritage of the world in perpetuity. In 1992 delegates attending the IVth World Parks Congress (Caracas, Venezuela) adopted a recommendation that called for the establishment of a global network of MPAs. Canada was one of the first countries to commit to helping protect the world's marine biodiversity through the establishment of a national system of MPAs.

The following are some of the most important international agreements in which Canada has participated:Footnote 2

  • United Nations General Assembly Resolution (2006), which calls for immediate action to manage fish stocks sustainably and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems;
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (2004), including the Jakarta Mandate on Marine and Coastal Biological Diversity, in which a commitment was made to establish and maintain comprehensive, effectively managed, ecologically representative national and regional MPA networks by 2012;
  • IUCN-World Conservation Union World Parks Congress (2003), in which the Durban Action Plan called on the international community to establish a global system of effectively managed, representative networks of MPAs across 20 percent to 30 percent of the world's oceans by 2012;
  • G8 Group of Nations Action Plan on the Marine Environment and Tanker Safety (2003), in which Canada and other members of the G8 committed to establish ecological networks of MPAs in their own waters and regions by 2012, consistent with international law and based on scientific information;.
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (2003), under which Canada committed to conserve and manage resources under its national jurisdiction in a sustainable manner; and
  • World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), in which Canada committed to the Johannesburg Plan of Action that calls for the completion of a national representative MPA network by 2012.

1.3 Canada's National Commitment to Establish MPA Networks

At the national level, Canada has developed an extensive policy and legislative framework to provide national guidance and direction for ocean management, in general, and the development of MPA networks, in particular. The following are integral to that framework:

Oceans Act (1997)
The Oceans Act provides a framework for ocean management initiatives in Canada. Among other directives, it calls for the establishment of a nationalFootnote 3 systemFootnote 4 of MPAs on behalf of the Government of Canada within the context of integrated management.Footnote 5
Canada's Oceans Strategy (2002)
Canada's Oceans Strategy defines the vision, principles, and policy objectives for the future management of Canada's estuarine, coastal, and marine ecosystems. The strategy identifies three policy objectives or outcomes: (1) understanding and protecting the marine environment; (2) supporting sustainable economic opportunities; and (3) providing international leadership. It calls for a set of concrete activities, including the development of a strategy for a national MPA network.Footnote 6
Canada's Oceans Action Plan (2005)
The Oceans Action Plan advances implementation of the Oceans Act and Strategy by providing a framework for coordinating and managing oceans activities to sustainably develop our oceans. The action plan rests on four interconnected pillars: (1) international leadership, sovereignty and security; (2) integrated oceans management for sustainable development; (3) health of the oceans; and (4) ocean science and technology.Footnote 7
Federal Marine Protected Areas Strategy (2005)
The Federal MPAs Strategy was developed in response to the need for a cooperative and collaborative approach to the development of a federal MPA network in Canada (see table 1). The strategy was intended to clarify the roles and responsibilities of federal departments and agencies that have a mandate to establish MPAs, and to describe how these different but complementary programs can collectively contribute to a cohesive MPA network. The Federal MPAs Strategy has four objectives: (1) to establish a more systematic approach to MPA planning and establishment than has been used previously; (2) to enhance collaboration in managing and monitoring MPAs and, in doing so, create an environment of certainty for users; (3) to increase awareness, understanding, and participation of Canadians in the MPA network; and (4) to link Canada's MPA network to continental and global networks.Footnote 8
Canada's Health of the Oceans plan (2007)
To further the goals of Canada's Oceans Strategy and Action Plan, the federal government funded a five-year Health of the Oceans plan in 2007. Under the plan, Canada committed to a number of activities, including the development of a national (federal-provincial-territorial) system of MPAs composed of at least three bioregional MPA networks to cover all three oceans, and implementation of the Federal MPAs Strategy led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada on behalf of the Government of Canada.

1.4 Establishing the National System of MPA Networks

The Federal MPAs Strategy, including the planning of a federal MPA network, is only one component of Canada's national system of MPAs. The Federal MPAs Strategy aims for greater collaboration between the three federal authorities mandated to establish MPAs, which have different but complementary legislation and program focuses for the establishment of individual MPAs (shown in table 1 below).

Table 1. Federal Agencies, Relevant Legislation, and Program Focus

Federal Mandate and Legislation Program Focus

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)

Oceans Act

Type of MPA: Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

To conserve and protect fish, marine mammals, and their habitats; unique areas; areas of high productivity or biological diversity

Parks Canada Agency (PCA)

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act

Type of MPA: National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs)

To conserve and protect representative examples of Canada's natural and cultural marine heritage and provide opportunities for public education and enjoyment

Environment Canada (EC)

Canada Wildlife Act

Type of MPA: Marine Wildlife Areas (MWAs); National Wildlife Areas (NWAs); Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (MBSs)

To conserve and protect habitat for a variety of wildlife, including migratory birds and species at risk

At the National MPA System level, a larger suite of organizations are involved. Canada's Oceans Act assigns the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans with the lead role in the development and implementation of a national system of MPAs in Canada. While the Act does not specifically address the involvement of provinces, territories, Aboriginal peoples, and others, such groups are recognized as having an important role to play.

The planning and implementation of the MPA system and bioregional networks in Canada's oceans will be undertaken collaboratively by:

  • The three federal agencies with legislative authority to designate MPAs (DFOPCA and EC);
  • All provinces and territories that have or could have the authority to designate MPAs; and
  • Other governmental agencies that have an interest in the establishment of MPA networks.

MPA network planning and implementation will also need to involve:

  • First Nations, wildlife management boards and other Aboriginal organizations that have a strong interest in the establishment of MPA networks;
  • Non-governmental stakeholders and conservation organizations; and
  • International organizations that have or could have authority to recognize or designate MPAs.

1.5 Canada's Groundwork for Establishing a National System of MPA Networks

Canada has already undertaken a considerable amount of the necessary groundwork to establish a national system of MPA networks, including:

  • Identification of marine ecoregions found in Canada's oceans;
  • Development of a governance framework, ecological overview assessments, and conservation priorities, and identification of conservation objectives and associated indicators for five large-scale planning areas (Placentia Bay/Grand Banks, the Eastern Scotian Shelf, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Beaufort Sea, and the Pacific North Coast);
  • Development of ecologically based criteria and guidance to identify potential Oceans Act MPAs (ecologically significant area, species, community properties). These criteria complement:
    • Selection criteria for MWAs, NWAs, and MBSs;
    • Identification and selection of candidate sites for NMCAs;
    • Provincial and territorial MPA selection processes;
  • Experience in designating individual MPAs and situating them in large-scale planning areas; and
  • Identification of key MPA network implementation considerations.
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