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

Proceedings of a national workshop held in Ottawa in January 2008

5.0 Conclusions and Next Steps

5.1 Conclusions

A number of themes and areas of convergence had emerged by the conclusion of the workshop. The core organizing committee noted some of these in the following conclusions:

  • There was a sense of agreement that clear ecological objectives and criteria enable progress toward the establishment of MPA networks.
  • Participants expressed the view that a sound scientific basis is needed to achieve the objectives of MPA networks with openness, clarity, and credibility.
  • It was recognized that MPA network initiatives can move ahead even without "perfect" data and when information is incomplete.
  • Implementation can proceed over time, and a clear timeline was seen as beneficial in spurring progress toward the establishment of MPA networks.
  • Experiences in other parts of the world have shown that MPA network design and implementation is complex but feasible.
  • Many participants echoed the view that MPA network planning and design are a shared responsibility that requires a collectively developed vision. Both the shared responsibility and vision are important and achievable.

Other key findings that relate to Canada's development of a framework for MPA networks are:

  • Different agencies use the term "representativeness" (or "representivity") differently. In some instances, the term is used differently in international versus domestic (national) contexts. Internationally, a representative MPA network is one that captures examples of the different biogeographical subdivisions that reasonably reflect the full range of ecosystems, including the biotic and habitat diversity of those ecosystems. In Canada, Parks Canada Agency is the only federal authority mandated to designate MPAs that has defined representativity as an objective: the agency seeks to preserve examples of Canada's "natural and cultural marine heritage."
  • A distinction must be made between a true ecological network of MPAs and a collection or "system" of individual MPAs:
    • A network of MPAs comprises ecologically linked MPAs, strategically and systematically selected to address an ecological outcome that an individual MPA could not address.
    • A system of MPAs groups individual MPAs of a similar class (e.g., all parks or all unique areas whose conservation outcomes can be achieved without linkage to other MPAs).
  • No example currently exists in the world of a network that effectively combines federal and stateMPAs.
  • Setting targets in policy or legislation seems to have accelerated progress in establishing MPA networks.
  • The level of knowledge and information required for legislation and policy before establishment of federal MPAs in Canada is higher than elsewhere.
  • Although benefits are derived from each MPA designated, full network benefits may not accrue until the network is completed.
  • Not all network design criteria are applicable at all scales.
Defining MPA Networks

The beginnings of a collective vision for Canada's MPA networks may be found in some of the themes that emerged in discussions about the nature and definition of MPA networks:

  • Participants noted that there is a critical difference between administrative systems of sites and true ecologically designed MPA networks:
    • Representativity on its own is only one design criterion, and a system selected only to achieve representation of the types of habitat or other biophysical characteristics in a specified area is not necessarily ecologically coherent and connected.
    • An ecologically designed MPA network should be developed through the application of a set of ecological criteria, including representivity, connectivity, replication, and adequacy/viability.
  • A system has a functional sense in that, as well as describing geographical and physical relationships, it implies consistent institutional and managerial arrangements, with coordinated planning. It does not, however, imply that there should be a single management authority. An effective system could comprise a range of types of management areas under different governance regimes adapted to local conditions. In contrast, a network has a primarily geographical and physical sense, that is, it is a group of protected areas that collectively are ecologically coherent.
  • Participants welcomed guidance on how to create networks that are ecologically coherent. Principles including representation, the inclusion of significant areas, connectivity, replication, and adequacy are important ingredients of ecological coherence.
  • Ecological coherence will be most evident at the scale of regional networks in each ocean, rather than in a national network across three oceans.

5.2 Next Steps

This workshop represents one step toward a fully realized national approach to MPA network planning in Canada. The information and insights shared by expert presenters, and by Canadian practitioners in the discussion groups, provide a basis for the next steps, which include these:

  • Bringing all relevant authorities at federal, provincial, and territorial levels together to agree on a common vision and ecological objectives, and accept the challenge to collectively define the ecological outcomes an MPA network, rather than individual MPAs; and
  • Developing together an action plan to establish an MPA network in a timely fashion.
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