A welcome light has come on in Canada.
We have a new government that accepts evidence-based arguments concerning issues ranging from social justice for First Nations Peoples to human-induced climate change. The Ministry of the Environment is now the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, and Canada played a positive role at the recent Paris Conference on Climate Change. After the past 10 years of embarrassment on the international stage, this is taking some getting used to.
Led by Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, environmental and conservation questions are once again part of the national agenda.
For instance, a few days ago Canada’s national newspaper reported in detail on Canada’s existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), plans for their immediate expansion, and longer term plans to actually try to meet UN proposed targets: specifically 5% of ocean waters protected by 2017 and 5% more by 2020.
Until now, Canada has been very slow to protect its coastal waters. Currently only 1.3% are under some sort of protection, but only 0.11% is actually ‘no take’, with no commercial fishing or drilling.
In contrast, both the UK and the US now have about 10% of their oceans protected as no-take areas, with lesser protection over much more. This might seem an unfair comparison, since much of thees protected areas lie around remote Pacific islands. On the other hand, Canada has the world’s longest coastline, bordering three oceans, and a lot of it truly remote as well. There’s potential here for some major action!
The key questions of course, here as everywhere else, are how do we decide what to protect and how do we to protect it?
At present Canada protects 8 hotspots, important certainly, but very limited in size. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society proposes 14 further sites, including a few that are somewhat larger – like the Bay of Fundy, the St.Lawrence Estuary, and Lancaster Sound. That’s a start, but now is the time to plan on a much larger scale.
Politics will certainly intrude, particularly since this is an opportunity to protect Canada’s Arctic coastal ecosystems ahead of the coming thaw and development of the Arctic. Even in the New Canada, politics will still trump science. It always does.
And anyway, what do we mean by ‘protection’? Despite the accumulating evidence of the social, economic and environmental benefits of fully protected areas, full protection is hard to achieve. Globally, only 1.6% of the oceans are fully protected. Canada’s new 10% target needs to be of fully protected, no-take coastal waters.
– Size matters: the bigger the protected area the better
– Full protection is essential, prohibiting commercial fishing, mining and drilling
– Corridors between reserves, forming networks of protected areas, allow fishing between reserves
– Adjacent coastal communities need to be involved in all aspects of establishing MPAs
– Enforcement is essential for success, and the new technologies are effective
– Comprehensive ecosystem-based management is worth developing
– Other issues, like illegal fishing, wasteful bycatch, overfishing, and the effects of climate change all need to be included
– Adaptive management is essential: the one thing we know is that ecosystem change will be on-going
The point of the 10% target by 2020 (set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) is to allow ecosystems to recover from current stress and to increase their resilience.
We also know that the target should be much higher, more in the range of 20-50%. But with the short time-line, 10% is a decent start, and it is achievable.
What has been changing globally over the past few years and now finally includes Canada is the emergence of political will to make it happen.
This is so unexpected and is really quite amazing.