Canada’s marine parks still threatened by oil and gas, trawling: report
The Canada Parks and Nature Society (SNAP) issued a stern warning in a report released this week that federal protections for several ocean conservation areas are too weak to meet their goals of preserving or restoring the sea. marine biodiversity.
“Our oceans are in trouble,” said Alex Barron, national director of the CPAWS ocean program.
Faced with the decline of fishing, the increasing number of species at risk and the loss of habitats, marine protected areas (MPAs) are “one of the most effective conservation tools we have”, he said. she declared.
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“They are truly equivalent to terrestrial parks,” said Natalie Ban, professor of environmental studies at the University of Victoria and one of more than 40 international experts who contributed to the development of the MPA guide, a framework published in the journal Science in September which can be used to assess, strengthen and plan the regulation of marine protected areas.
These marine protected areas can serve as vital refuge for marine life against a myriad of threats, but only with strong protections and effective management, said Barron.
According to the federal government, nearly 14% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas are protected by various measures, which means the country has exceeded its target under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity of protecting 10% of its oceans by 2020. Now, Ottawa is targeting a new goal of protecting 25 percent of its oceans by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030.
However, SNAP’s new assessment, based on the Marine Protected Areas Guide, found that out of 17 marine areas currently protected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada or Environment and Climate Change Canada, “seven MPAs are highly protected, eight are weakly protected and two are incompatible with the conservation of biodiversity.
The seven marine protected areas that are considered highly protected make up just 0.4 percent of Canada’s oceans, according to the report.
Concerns raised about protections at Scott Islands National Marine Wildlife Area in British Columbia
One of the marine protected areas of particular concern is the Scott Islands National Marine Wildlife Area, where SNAP deemed the level of protection “incompatible with the conservation of biodiversity”.
Established by Environment and Climate Change Canada under the Canada Wildlife Act in 2018, the MPA covers 11,546 square kilometers of ocean surrounding the five Scott Islands off the north coast of Vancouver Island.
Between five and 10 million migratory birds, including the Short-tailed Albatross and other species at risk, travel to the region each year to feed, Environment and Climate Change Canada notes on its website.
According to the SNAP report, there is a moratorium on oil and gas activities in the Scott Islands Protected Area, but these activities are not specifically prohibited under Marine Protected Area regulations – which would leave “a worrying gap in protections ”if the moratorium were ever to be lifted.
This is also the case in two other marine protected areas – the Gully, off the coast of Nova Scotia, and Tarium Niryutait, off the Yukon and Northwest Territories – according to the report.
The Scott Islands Government Regulatory Impact Study, released in 2018 and reviewed by SNAP as part of its assessment, noted that in 2018, four companies held 36 oil and gas exploration licenses and a license that could affect the protected area if exploration was ever carried out. authorized to proceed.
“However, they should demonstrate that the impacts of their proposed activity would not compromise the conservation of the area,” the statement noted.
Bottom trawling, a fishing practice in which a net is dragged along the ocean floor, is also permitted in the Scott Islands protected area, according to the SNAP report.
“Canada itself says there are four key uses that are not compatible with ocean protection, four key industrial activities: oil and gas, mining, dumping and trawling. background, ”Ban said.
“So that’s clearly a gap.”
Canada Has Minimum Protection Standards, Now Must Implement Them
In the spring of 2019, the federal government announced that it would establish minimum protection standards for all new marine protected areas based on advice from the National Marine Protected Area Standards Advisory Committee.
Going forward, the government has committed to ban oil and gas activities, mining, dumping and bottom trawling in all new federal marine protected areas. He also pledged to consider adopting these minimum standards for existing protected areas as their management plans are reviewed.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not respond to questions from Narwhal and the department’s new minister, Joyce Murray, was not available for a publication interview.
Adopting even minimum standards in existing marine protected areas would increase the level of protection at several sites, Barron said.
According to the report, by regulating minimum standards in the 17 existing marine protected areas, nine (instead of seven) would be considered highly protected, eight would be weakly protected and none would be considered incompatible with biodiversity conservation.
Without meaningful protections, Ban warned that marine protected areas risked being nothing more than “paper parks” – simply “lines on a map that do not have meaningful regulations or (the regulations) are not. at all applied “.
Barron said the federal government is working on implementing these minimum standards, a process of defining what exactly is covered by these four industry activities.
It’s “really important for things like dumping, which is a pretty broad activity,” she explained.
In a country like Canada where several federal agencies have a role to play in ocean governance, the process can get complicated quickly, she said.
But “we are pushing the government to act as quickly as possible,” Barron said.
And in the meantime, the SNAP report says any marine protected areas that allow bottom trawling and oil, gas or mineral activities should not count toward Canada’s ocean conservation goals.
Canada urged to replicate examples of ‘very good MPAs’ as it strives to meet targets
“The most urgent thing is to put in place minimum protection standards for future sites, then start looking at existing MPAs and see how we can improve them to meet minimum protection standards,” said Barron.
Several of the existing sites are behind schedule for management reviews, she noted, which is the process by which the government has said it will consider adopting the minimum standards.
Ban and Barron both said they would like the federal government to use the marine protected areas guide that informed SNAP’s analysis as a measure to assess the level of protection of marine protected areas.
Barron noted that there are also “very, very good MPAs in Canada,” including the SGaan Kinghlas-Bowie Seamount in British Columbia and the Laurentian Channel off the southwest coast of Newfoundland. and Labrador.
“So we have examples where we have done it right and we would like Canada to look at those examples and seek to replicate them as we demand 30% protection” by 2030, she said.
There are also “very good examples of indigenous leadership on MPAs,” Barron said, noting for example Gwaii Haanas.
“We recognize that this is something that is going to be really, really important to move forward and to ensure that MPAs are not only officially protected, but also well managed and benefit local and indigenous communities”, a- she declared.
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