Are marine protected areas a solution for protecting Canada’s marine life?

I was asked to speak to this question at the Ottawa Museum of Nature’s upcoming Café Scientifique (also see the Facebook page for the event) on April 27. They have a neat program at the museum where they screen a film, serve drinks, hear from a few speakers and then have a lively discussion about the night’s topic. They’ll be screening Secrets of the Emerald Sea, which explores the ocean off of BC’s coast. It’s narrated by one of WWF’s ocean program advisors, Sarika Cullis-Suzuki.

Now to the question… yes of course marine protected areas (MPA’s) will help protect Canada’s marine life, but not on their own.
What is the problem in our oceans?  The recent Royal Society Report Sustaining Canada’s Marine Biodiversity, captured it poignantly: “…since the panel began its work in June of 2010, it has found a threatened marine environment, where biodiversity is at risk. The oceans are not a government priority and it shows. The panel selected three areas to study closely — climate change, fisheries and aquaculture — because of their potential for impact on Canada’s marine biodiversity. The panel found, across all three subjects, not lack of knowledge or lack of sound policy, but a consistent, disheartening lack of action on well-established knowledge and best-practice and policies, some of which have been around for years…”. Put bluntly, the ocean is at risk, we know it is and not enough is being done about it.
In Canada currently 0.4% of the ocean is protected in, ‘no industrial activity allowed’ zones. In these zones fishing is also prohibited. On average, other countries have protected 1.6% of their ocean. Canada’s international commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity is 10% by 2020.

At the current rate of designation, Canada would meet its 2020 international commitments in 2064. That’s over 40 years past our international commitment deadline!

This makes the obvious point and good segue into my main message: MPAs alone can’t protect marine life. We need many tools to tackle the problem.
At WWF we’ve developed three pillars in our oceans program with MPA establishment being just one important element. The three pillars include governance reform, establishing economic incentives and changing the seafood supply chain.
Governance: This is what encompasses the rules and policies governments use to manage the oceans. MPAs fall in this category along with: improving the spatial management or what some call Marine Spatial Planning, which is allocating and coordinating uses to not over burden the ecology of the ocean; Fisheries closures to allow for stock and habitat recovery; Rights Based Management which is giving conditional rights to certain areas and stocks to fishers to manage directly as a means to promote conservation; Bycatch reduction measures to prevent the catch and ‘discarding’ of fish; Cumulative effects analysis including developing noise maps which contribute to managing habitat.
Transforming the Seafood Supply Chain: Consumers and retailers are at the heart of this strategy. By labeling seafood that comes from certified sustainable fisheries, consumers can make informed decisions and transform fishing practices with their purchasing power. As demand for sustainable seafood gradually increases more fishers seek the sustainability label for their catch. WWF works to support fishery improvement projects which help fishers meet the labeling criteria thus allowing them to access the growing market for sustainable fish and become profitable. Retailers play a role here as well. For instance Loblaws in partnership with WWF has set ambitious targets for the amount of sustainable products on their shelves. This has dramatically changed their need for a consistent supply of sustainable seafood which has a ripple effect back to what happens in the water.
Economic Incentives: This could also be called the ‘banking’ pillar because it’s about setting up funds, financial mechanisms and loans to invest in the recovery of large marine ecosystems based on the future value of recovered fish stocks. Just like getting a mortgage based on your credit history and job security, this model uses investments now to transition activity in the ocean from current exploitation to future stewardship.

That’s what we are doing. What can you do?

  1. Buy Marine Stewardship Council seafood and help create the demand for sustainability in the seafood supply chain
  2. Educate yourself on the pressing issues that face our oceans today like marine pollution, climate change and overfishing.
  3. Donate and get active in organizations that are advocating and trying to solve the problems in our oceans (like WWF!).

You can also start by coming out on April 27 to the Museum for an interesting evening to discuss all things marine!