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Are Canada’s marine protection plans at sea?

Barack Obama’s presidency is going out with a splash.

In August, Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument near Hawaii to 1,510,000 sq. km. That’s about the size of Quebec, Canada’s largest province, making it the Earth’s largest protected area, in land or at sea. On Sept. 15, he announced the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, America’s first Atlantic marine monument. This latest area is smaller, but also closer to shore and so used more intensively. The Monument will protect biologically significant areas, including the habitats of deep-sea coral, whales and critically endangered sea turtles.

Blackfooted albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) taking off in the French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, United States. © Elaine LEUNG / WWF-Canada

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument protects the habitat of birds such as this black-footed albatross. © Elaine LEUNG / WWF-Canada

He made the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts announcement at the U.S. Department of State’s Our Oceans conference — and remarkably, that wasn’t the only big announcement to occur. Britain announced it would ban commercial fishing in a marine protected area around Pitcairn island, creating a “no-take zone” of 1 million sq. km. The European Union announced it was halfway to its goal of 10 per cent marine protection by 2020. Chile spoke of its success with the marine protected area it created in 2015, one the size of Italy.

All told, 20 countries lined up the announce the creation of 40 new marine protection areas, totalling 1.2 million square kilometers, aimed at protecting the ocean from threats like overfishing and pollution.

Canada has its own commitments to live up to: to protect 5 per cent of Canada’s marine territory by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020. We know we can get there. We just need to get going.

For instance, now that oil rights near Lancaster Sound in the Arctic have been relinquished, the marine protected area that the community has been demanding for 40 years can be expedited. Protecting Lancaster Sound, an area twice the size of Nova Scotia, will more double the ocean space protected by Canada.

Narwhals swim in Lancaster Sound, which is not yet protected. © naturepl.com / Doug Allan / WWF

Narwhals swim in Lancaster Sound, which is not yet protected. © naturepl.com / Doug Allan / WWF

To help illustrate what else could happen in terms of marine protection, WWF-Canada has created this interactive map highlighting proposed Marine Protected Area sites with information about existing MPAs. 

But it’s not just about the target number: MPAs have to offer meaningful protection, too. Take a deeper dive into Marine Protected Areas and find out what science tells us about the kinds of ocean protections are most effective.

International expectations have been raised now that the United States has become serious about marine protection, and WWF-Canada applauds this global sea change. If Canada makes good on its targets, we can expect MPA announcements to start coming quickly in the coming months.