This Quebec government decision threatens beluga food supply and sets “dangerous precedent” for future of ocean protection, says WWF-Canada
October 30, 2020 – An article in La Presse has revealed the Quebec government’s unannounced withdrawal of a segment of a proposed marine protected area (MPA) in the St. Lawrence Estuary near Saguenay, QC. During initial MPA studies, this area was found to be ecologically significant and includes important nursery areas for capelin and rainbow smelt, important food for beluga.
This area of concern is precisely where a new marine terminal for natural gas has been proposed.
Sophie Paradis, lead of Quebec conservation for WWF-Canada, said:
“Removing even a small portion of a proposed marine protected area marks a dangerous precedent for marine wildlife. This decision not only puts beluga prey habitat at risk, it also shows that marine protections can be overturned for new development opportunities. The placement of marine protected areas must be evidence-based, and this type of decision has the potential to undermine the quality of the protected area overall and have a long-term impact on the biodiversity of the entire region.
Our recent Living Planet Report Canada found that populations of Canadian at-risk species have declined by nearly 60 per cent, on average, over the last 50 years. Decisions like this are precisely why those devastating declines are continuing. This area provides a critical food supply for belugas — and by failing to protect it, we are failing to protect them.
Time has proven that MPAs are the best tool for protecting marine wildlife from harmful industrial activity and for promoting wildlife recovery. Just last month, we applauded the Quebec government for increasing their ambitions on ocean protection to almost ten percent. Yesterday’s revelation is a huge step backward from what we heard in September. We ask the Quebec government to reconsider this decision and to recommit to protection of this essential space for wildlife.”
Why MPA networks are important:
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. These sites are set aside to conserve the natural environment for the long term, protecting not just one single species but the ecosystem as a whole. Networks of MPAs provide a protected corridor throughout the range of species, allowing them to move within their range relatively undisturbed.
About St. Lawrence beluga whale population:
- The endangered St. Lawrence beluga population numbers less than 900 individuals
- Lack of adequate and accessible food (capelin and rainbow smelt) is one of the key threats to this population of belugas; others include pollution and maritime noise (shipping noise) and other human disturbances
- Belugas feed on a variety of fish and invertebrates, using echolocation to find their prey
- Belugas live for 15 to 30 years and are sexually mature between 5 to 7 years. A female beluga will give birth to one calf every 3 years. This is significant because long-lived species typically take a longer time to recover from population declines because their birth rates are low, and they take years to sexually mature
About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.
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