No oil and gas in marine protected areas is a big win for whales

Wildlife that roam the most fragile corners of Canada’s oceans will now have access to safe havens free from harmful human activities. 

The government announced that oil and gas development is officially banned in marine protected areas (MPAs). That’s a huge win, but the protections go further. Mining, bottom trawling and dumping — all of which are damaging to ecosystems — will not be permitted in federally protected ocean areas. 

And it was a long time coming.   

Endangered North Atlantic right whales gather to feed. The remaining whales will directly benefit from this announcement. © PCCS/PCCS-NOAA under permit 633-1763

Although WWF-Canada championed stronger protections as far back as the 1990s, there was greater urgency in 2017 when we heard the proposed Laurentian Channel marine protected area would remain open to oil and gas development. In response, we launched a public campaign asking Canadians to email our government on behalf of wildlife, and thousands of you did just that.  

“Over the last couple of years, concerned citizens sent thousands of emails to the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which is now resulting in stronger protections for Canada’s wildlife,” says Megan Leslie, WWF-Canada president and CEO. “This is proof that when we speak up for wildlife, we can make a difference.”

Thanks to our dedicated supporters who made their voice heard, nearly 11,600 sq. km of the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Laurentian Channel, will help conserve endangered North Atlantic right whales and leatherback sea turtles, as well as sea pen corals, porbeagle sharks and black dogfish.

The Gully, a marine protected area off the coast of Nova Scotia, is a critical habitat for Northern Bottlenose whales. © Hal WHITEHEAD / WWF-Canada 

However, not all marine areas under protection will prohibit oil & gas activities. There are other sites known as marine refuges and provincial MPAs that remain vulnerable to harmful human activities.

We want to ensure that these areas that were chosen because of their ecological importance will be granted the same high standards of protection that the The Gully or Laurentian Channel have been afforded.  

As climate change continues to alter our oceans, it will be critically important that Canada applies minimum standards for all protected ocean areas.