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Scientists urge greater protection of marine preserves

Dalhousie Oceans Week, June 1 to 8

- May 30, 2011

(Photo courtesy of CPAWS)
(Photo courtesy of CPAWS)

A group of marine researchers and scientists have banded together for one purpose: to fight for protected areas of the ocean to ensure they are free of harmful industrial activities.

A report commissioned by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) was introduced at the recent International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, B.C. The report points out the dire need for government to take action in protecting Canada’s oceans. This independent report is the first of its kind and outlines a specific set of scientifically based guidelines needed to help preserve Canada’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Canada has a geographical presence in three oceans — the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic. Canadians therefore have a unique responsibility to assume a leadership role in oceanography, conservation and governance, according to the CPAWS report, “Science-based guidelines for Marine Protected Areas and MPA Networks in Canada.”

Not enough


As of now, Canada’s Marine Protected Areas amount to less than one per cent of its national ocean territory. According to the report, this isn’t enough.

Elizabeth De Santo, assistant professor in the Marine Affairs Program at Dalhousie University, is one of report’s 14 scientist authors who spent five months developing effective guidelines on how Canada can make the safety of marine ecosystems a priority.

The researchers were divided into three groups based on their areas of specialty: ecology, socioeconomics and governance. Dr. De Santo, whose research focuses on marine governance, MPAs and the politics of marine conservation, got involved with CPAWS around the same time she joined Dalhousie University in 2009. The CPAWS project Nova Scotia chapter was a natural fit for her.

“I’ve been involved in MPA work since 2003, having done my PhD in this area and then subsequently worked on MPAs with the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Washington, D.C.,” she explains. “I’ve been watching the development of legislation for MPAs in Canada, and this initiative offered an opportunity to provide advice to government on what we felt would be the best ways to proceed as the national MPAs framework developed.”

In an effort to protect the marine ecosystems, Dr. De Santo, along with the other signatories, is calling Canada to action by fulfilling certain requirements, including:

  • Establishing “no-take” areas in no less than 30 per cent of each Canadian bioregion. Not every MPA is free of industrial activity, however, this requirement mandates no less than 30 per cent of each MPA (there are 12 all together) to ensure the system can recover and biodiversity can prosper.
  • Excluding certain industrial activities from all MPAs including exploration and extraction of non-renewable resources, dredging, dumping and destructive fishing practices.
  • Incorporating MPAs into the overall ocean management system.  

The scientists believe that by following these guidelines, along with the rest outlined in the report, Canada can achieve the full benefits of MPAs and help mitigate the impacts of climate change and protect the marine ecosystems from further damage. The legislation is already in place and therefore it’s time for Canada to take action, the scientists agree.

“We’re looking to bridge the gap between the science of marine conservation and the policies that govern them,” explains Rodrigo Menafra, Marine Conservation Coordinator for CPAWS-NS who’s also a grad from the Masters of Marine Affairs program at Dalhousie University. “This is an effort to bring forth the best practices from around the world and apply them to a Canadian context.”

LINK:  Science-based Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas and MPA Networks in Canada. 

About the Marine Affairs Program

The Marine Affairs Program (MAP), located in the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University, offers interdisciplinary graduate-level education, research and outreach to local, regional and global marine managers. MAP attracts students and researchers whose backgrounds span various disciplines, including law, natural science, management, social science and policy studies. The Master of Marine Management offered by MAP is an intensive 12-month non-thesis degree uniquely designed for students to concentrate their studies in coastal zone management, marine law and policy, fisheries policy and management, marine environmental management or maritime transport management. For more information, please visit the website.


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