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Canada’s oceans need meaningful protections. Here’s why

The world’s oceans cover 70 per cent of the planet’s surface and produce more than half the oxygen that sustains all life, but they’re suffering, according to the Living Planet Report 2016, released today.

Northern right whale mother and calf (Eubalaena glacialis). © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF

Northern right whale mother and calf (Eubalaena glacialis). © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF

The report’s Living Planet Index shows a 36 per cent overall decline of ocean species between 1970 and 2012 and identifies overexploitation as the biggest threat to ocean species, followed by habitat loss and climate change. Almost one-third (31 per cent) of fish stocks globally are harvested at unsustainable levels, an increase since the last Living Planet Report in 2014.

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) © Erling Svensen / WWF

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) © Erling Svensen / WWF

This degradation of habitat threatens human lives and livelihoods as well, both globally and closer to home. Canada has already seen the kind of species declines and fishery collapses the Living Planet Report describes. In the late 1980s, cod stocks around Newfoundland plummeted due to historical overfishing and changing environmental conditions, and even after a moratorium was declared in 1992, many feared the species had been pushed to extinction.


Visit the the Living Planet Report 2016 hub for full coverage, including:


Marine mammals such as the North Atlantic right whale are threatened by shipping collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. Beluga whales are threatened by chemical and noise pollution, as well as loss of habitat. And all species in Canada will feel the effects of climate change, which is happening faster than species can adapt.

It’s easy to focus on the large, impressive ocean mammals, but those big animals need a lot of smaller fish for food. Forage fish — small prey species like herring and capelin — need to be abundant to sustain the larger ones, all the way up the food chain. Forage fish are vulnerable to climate change and overfishing, and at least three Canadian forage fish stocks are known to be in critical condition. There could be more in trouble – we just don’t know, WWF-Canada found in this recent study of the state of forage fish in Canada.

Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) swim in a large ball for safety in numbers in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, Canada. © National Geographic Stock /Paul Nicklen / WWF-Canada

Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) swim in a large ball for safety in numbers in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, Canada. © National Geographic Stock /Paul Nicklen / WWF-Canada

A first step to slow biodiversity loss in our oceans is to develop a network of marine protected areas that shelter ocean life and habitats, giving species and their habitat a place to recover from human impacts like pollution or overfishing, in the same way that national parks do on land.

At the moment, Canada only protects about one per cent of its oceans and Great Lakes, though it has committed to increasing that to 10 per cent by 2020. Expanding the area protected, and including meaningful minimum standards that would prevent oil and gas exploration and significant commercial fishing, could make a great difference to species and habitats, and possibly even reverse some of the biodiversity declines we’ve seen in our oceans.

The Living Planet Report 2016 sounds the alarm, but we’re the ones responsible for responding to the call. With the world’s longest coastline and rich marine life in all three oceans, Canada should be a leader in ocean protection. Ocean health can be restored. Now’s the time to make critical changes.


  • Gail Dance

    This doesn’t appear to be on the best sellers list, only two commenting in two days, would have hoped more were reading and sharing their thoughts. Am 78 yrs. and do care what is going to be here for my kids/grdkids and their whole generation. Am amazed what I have seen over the years, when people care, polluted streams/rivers returning to spawning grounds. The 2010 Olympics were here and at 5:30 a.m. the news, filming live, the first Humpback near Granville Island also more returning Killer Whale pods, etc. meaning the feeding fish population was ample, what is special here? I never saw or heard of some these species locally, since my awareness year of 1942 and living on English Bay & Deep Cove. The proposed oil tankers and one accident/spill very scary, especially after the recent sinking of a tug boat pushing an “empty tanker” taking over a week to contain & clean up, which resulted in the clam bed and oyster shoreline being coated in oil.

  • http://www.kathleendawson.com Kathleen Dawson

    It is astonishing how little attention is paid to these extremely serious statistics. Humankind may not be as blind as we think. I am uncomfortable in saying this but I feel the wealthy may feel that they are in a position to survive.They may also be so focused on the economy and growth that they cannot think of anything else. When I see huge corporations wanting to own water and sell it. It concerns me that some life will become expendible. This affects me emotionally even though I do not have a lot of time left to live on this planet I deeply care for her and all of here inhabitants. This is my emotional response but I am also a scientists. I understand what a minute shift in Ph does to the natural world or a shift of .25 degrees in temperature will do to plant life. Plants do not adapt.They die. The beginning of the food chain is not doing well and this is where the food chain begins and so when we see apex predators failing to thrive and disappear it may already be too late. I do not watch nature films anymore because I feel like I am watching an obituary. Climate change is the number one most important issue in the world and yet why are our leaders not talking about it. The truth is that none of them wish to talk about the sacrifices we all must make to save our only home ,our planet. To do this we must understand that we must protect the web of life as every species,molecular ones like viruses,one celled like bacteria and algae right on up to complex creatures fish ,elasmobrancs,whales,dolphins birds,amphibians,reptiles and mammals are codependant in the web of life.It is not some romantic notion to get upset about but it is life and death for more complex animals. Life forms will survive just not the ones that rely on existing web of life. A different web will emerge.

  • Jo Lowe

    http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=87372265bba32227e01197dd8&id=9b440becce&e=2d9005da9f

    My sentiments, exactly. I have been trying my darndest to educate as many people as I could; hopefully a lot got it. I hope most, at least, read it. Our society that has evolved over the past 50-60 years, somehow has become uneducated in selfless-indulging learning. People are all in the moment; what can I get now for my greedy llittle self; how do I come out on top (giving no care to the rest).  Grow up, stop being spoiled brats, start caring about yours and future existence) before it doesn’t matter anymore. We are on the edge of that choice. We need to make the right choice, NOW. A minute number of people on this planet are making our decisions and deciding our fate. That is unacceptable. Please make noise and use your voice. It is ALL the inhabitants’ future that is being screwed with, over greed, that won’t matter to anyone; especially the creators of this mess (as the mentality is, “I won’t be here to see it, so what do I care”). I am speaking from experience on this note, as, not only do I know, as many as, everyone else knows, I lived with one for 32 years). It’s a reality. Please help repair what we have allowed to be destroyed by not standing up sooner. Thank you.