© Natalie Bowes / WWF Canada

Marine Protected Areas

WWF-Canada believes healthy oceans depend on a network of marine protected areas.

Our Oceans Need Protection

Our oceans are in crisis worldwide. About one in four species of sharks, rays and skates on Earth are now threatened with extinction, primarily due to overfishing. On all three of Canada’s coasts, marine fish, bird, mammal and reptile populations are dropping.

Healthy oceans depend on a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) to help protect species, habitats and ecosystems. MPAs shelter ocean life and habitats so they can recover from human impacts like pollution and overfishing. They are similar to protected areas on land, such as National Parks — sites set aside to conserve the natural environment for the long term, protecting not just one single species, but the ecosystem as a whole.

© GaryAndJoanieMcGuffin.com / WWF-Canada Lake Superior National Marine Protected Area, Ontario.

What are Marine Protected Areas and Refuges?

Marine protected areas can be created by federal, provincial and territorial governments using a variety of legislation including the Oceans Act, Canada Wildlife Act and the Canada National Marine Conservation Act. Marine refuges are fisheries closures, put in place under the Fisheries Act to protect marine ecosystems and species. They can be created much more quickly than MPAs. However, marine refuges may only protect a single species, and many do not restrict harmful activities like mineral or oil and gas extraction.

© Milos Bicanski / WWF-UK Plastic waste on beach

Oceans in Crisis

According to WWF-Canada’s 2017 Living Planet Report, monitored populations of marine fish, birds, mammals and reptiles dropped on average by nine per cent between 1970 and 2014. In Atlantic Canada alone, species including cod, mackerel, tuna, sharks, skates and rays declined by 38 per cent between 1970 and 2014. Humans are having a major impact on our oceans. Overfishing and bycatch remain some of the biggest threats to marine species. Climate change threatens ocean life, as marine ecosystems continue to deteriorate due to ocean warming and acidification. Plastics, from both land-based sources and abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear are also an issue.

Marine protected areas in Canada have widely differing rules and regulations. Even when an area is said to be protected, it may not be sufficiently protected to help wildlife recover from human impacts.

Establishing Standards for Marine Protected Areas

WWF strongly supports and encourages efforts by Canada and other nations around the world to develop and implement networks of MPAs with high ecological standards. We have worked for decades to ensure that minimum standards are in place for Canadian MPAs. Ottawa has now banned all mining, oil and gas activities, bottom trawling and dumping in federal MPAs. Marine refuges and provincial MPAs may still be open to these types of activities, showing that more work needs to be done so that all protected ocean spaces have the same level of protection.

What You Can Do

Adopt an Orca

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Testing Freshwater

Generation Water Technology Challenge

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Shoreline Cleanup Participants


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© WWF-Canada / Zoe Caron Surface of the Arctic Ocean

Learn More about Our Oceans Work

It’s not too late to bring our oceans back to a state of beauty and bounty. We are working to change the tide, driving protection and sustainable management so our oceans have a vibrant future.