• Eastport Marine Protected Area

    Fishermen in Eastport on Bonavista Bay noticed a steady decline in their lobster catch in the ’90’s so they came together to protect the species.

    View Story
  • Gilbert Bay Marine Protected Area

    Golden Cod is a visually and genetically distinct population of Atlantic Cod that live in Gilbert Bay, Labrador that have been monitored for over 20 years.

    View Story
  • Laurentian Channel Proposed Marine Protected Area

    Located off the south coast of Newfoundland, the Laurentian Channel is home to sea turtles, whales, sharks, corals, and many other species.

    View Story

Surrounded by three oceans, Canada is particularly vulnerable to threats such as overfishing, pollution, ocean warming and acidification. Experts agree that as the health of the ocean declines, so too does marine biodiversity. To help conserve Canada’s coastal ecosystems, special places are being created as marine protected areas.

What is a marine protected area (MPA)?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a marine protected area as: “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.”  Marine protected areas go by many different names around the world including marine parks, marine reserves, marine sanctuaries, and marine conservation areas. It is important to put MPAs in areas that are considered ecologically and biologically important.

Factors that are important in designing an effective marine protected area include:

  • Size and shape.
  • Representativeness.
  • Replication.
  • Connectivity.
  • Resilience.
  • Permanence.

Each protected area is unique and certain activities may occur inside the area if they do not cause harm to the important species and habitats found there. While some are fully protected, most allow multiple uses, or integrate fully protected zones within larger multiple-use areas. Under the Oceans Act, DFO is responsible for leading the development of a national network of MPAs on behalf of the Government of Canada which will also involve provincial and territorial counterparts, Aboriginal groups, industry and environmental non-governmental organizations. A network of MPAs is a collection of clearly defined areas that operate cooperatively to safeguard important ecological components of the ocean and marine biodiversity as a whole.

Why Do the Oceans Matter?

It’s well-recognized that more than 71% of planet Earth is covered by oceans, but do you realize that 99% of the living space on Earth is in the ocean?

This is because the ocean is very deep for the most part (average depth = 3,688 m, maximum depth at the Marianas Trench is 10,994 m) and covers a vast area.  In comparison, Mount Everest is 8,848 m.

71% of the Earth's surface is ocean.

Canada’s three oceans (Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean and Pacific Ocean) and Great Lakes cover an area of approximately 5.7 million km2, and Canada has the longest coastline in the world at 202,080 km.  Canada’s marine environment supports rich biodiversity, with a great variety of habitats and species, from sponges, corals, and jellyfish to Atlantic cod, Northern gannets, and Humpback whales.

But it is not only marine life that depends on the ocean. In fact, our economy is very dependent on the ocean, for resources and industries such as fisheries, transportation, and offshore oil and gas, as well as research, ocean technology development, recreation, and tourism.  More than the economy however, humans are fundamentally tied to the ocean.

Did you know we depend on the ocean for the air we breathe? 

Half of the all the oxygen we breathe is generated by phytoplankton in the vast oceans, with the other 50% is generated by forests.  At the same time, the ocean also sequesters carbon dioxide, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and storing it in the ocean bottom. As you know from the water cycle, the ocean is also a key driver of available freshwater, again, critical for human survival.  The ocean also plays a major role in weather and climate, nutrient cycling, and is a major source of food for many people, particularly people living on islands and near the coast.

We still know very little about the ocean. Less than 5% of the ocean has been explored and mapped.

This may not seem surprising – but the moon and Mars have been fully mapped!  Each time ocean researchers go out on scientific cruises to explore the ocean, they make new discoveries, including whole new species!  We are still learning, and new technologies allow us to explore the ocean in a new ways and to go deeper, further, and collect more data than ever before.

Dr. Paul Snelgrove, the Canada Research Chair in Boreal and Cold Ocean Systems, and a professor in the Department of Ocean Sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, lead a seminal ten-year global study to census the ocean and his TED talk (link below) provides an excellent summary of all that we are still learning about the ocean!

What are the Benefits of Creating MPAs?

  • Protecting ecosystems from the effects of human activity during critical life stages.
  • Reducing impacts of fishing.
  • Conserving habitats.
  • Contributing to climate change mitigation by protecting certain marine habitats that are especially good at absorbing carbon dioxide. For example, coastal habitats such as salt marshes, sea grasses and mangroves account for less than 0.5% of the world’s seabed, but studies have shown they can store up to 71% of the total amount of carbon found in ocean sediments.
  • Individual fish size, density, and life span increases inside MPAs.
  • The number of individual fish increases and the population grows for two key reasons:
    • Larger, older fish reproduce more.
    • Adult fish migrate to MPAs.
  • Habitat becomes healthier and more extensive due to restrictions on human activities.
  • Resident or sedentary species particularly benefit from MPAs, but if well designed, an MPA can also protect migratory species such as salmon, cod, and sharks through the protection of spawning and rearing grounds and migration corridors.
  • If density of the population increases, there are often ‘spillover’ benefits where fish move out into non-protected waters adjacent to the MPA, and thereby increase the fish stock available to fisheries (despite the closure of fishing within the MPA area itself).
  • MPAs can lead to tourism and recreation economic benefits – diving/snorkeling, whale-watching/dolphin-watching tour boats, bird-watching, and more!
  • They also offer the opportunity for study of natural habitats by scientists.
  • MPAs contribute to instilling a sense of pride of place, fostering a spirit of stewardship based on our historical and cultural connections and special relationship to the sea.

With effective monitoring, management, enforcement, and time, MPAs can have all the benefits listed here.



International Convention on Biodiversity

Aichi Biodiversity Targets

  • Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  • Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use
  • Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

Click here for more information.

What are the MPAs in Canada?

In Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the lead government agency responsible for the creation and management of MPAs.  Canada currently has eight Marine Protected Areas:

  • Gilbert Bay MPA, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Eastport MPA, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Basin Head, PEI
  • The Gully, Nova Scotia
  • Musquash Estuary, New Brunswick
  • Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents, British Colombia
  • Bowie Seamounts, British Columbia
  • Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area, Northwest Territories

In addition to these MPAs, there are also National Marine Conservation Areas (managed by Parks Canada), National Wildlife Areas (managed by Environment Canada), and a number of provincially protected coastal areas (for example: Witless Bay Ecological Refuge in Newfoundland and Labrador).

For More Information about MPAs in Canada, visit Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Email: oceans-nl@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Students & Teachers

Contact us for educational resources specific to your grade level and subject area.

Stay tuned for a schedule of live streaming events happening early 2017.