Canada’s ocean protection progress: One year after IMPAC5

Rocky shoreline with trees

Last year at this time, Vancouver was the centre of the marine conservation world, as the city hosted the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5). The Congress brought together attendees from far and wide to make progress on global marine protection goals.

It was also an opportunity for the Canadian government, before the eyes of the world, to show leadership in protecting ocean spaces here in Canada. Canada made several significant commitments at IMPAC5, related to projects that West Coast Environmental Law has been working on for a long time, that could help bolster the health of the ocean.  

In our blog after IMPAC5, we summarized Canada’s ocean protection commitments. One year later, it is a good time to assess the progress that has been made in meeting some of those commitments.

Canada’s pathway to protecting 25% of the ocean by 2025

At IMPAC5, the federal government released a Pathway to protecting 25% of Canada’s ocean areas by 2025. The Pathway acknowledged that as of February 2023, just over 14% of Canada’s ocean areas were protected, so an additional 10-11% of Canada’s ocean would have to be protected to meet this goal. 

The Pathway lists several proposed conservation initiatives off the BC coast that will be important to meeting this target, including the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network and the Tang.ɢwan — ḥačxwiqak — Tsig̱is MPA off the west coast of Vancouver Island. With 2025 fast approaching, it will be a race to the finish line to get these areas legally protected.

          Great Bear Sea (Northern Shelf Bioregion) MPA Network

The Great Bear Sea, off the central and northern coasts of BC, is one of the world’s most spectacular marine ecosystems. Coastal Indigenous nations, Canada and BC have long been planning a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the area which is expected to become the largest Indigenous-led, collaboratively developed MPA Network in the world. 

At IMPAC5 last year, the governing partners endorsed the MPA Network’s Action Plan, which is a blueprint for the Network. Since then, the governing partners have been working on securing sustainable long-term funding for management of the Network through Project Finance for Permanence, an innovative approach inspired by the successful financing model used in the Great Bear Rainforest. Last December, the Province of BC announced $60 million in funding toward the initiative, which follows the federal government’s announcement a year earlier of $800 million for four Indigenous-led conservation initiatives, one of which is the Great Bear Sea MPA Network.

This year, we expect to see significant progress on legally establishing the new MPAs that will make up the Network. One of the most significant new MPAs in development in the Network is the Central Coast National Marine Conservation Area Reserve. The Reserve is currently undergoing a feasibility assessment and the governing partners are accepting public feedback online until March 15, 2024.

          Tang.ɢwan — ḥačxwiqak — Tsig̱is MPA

The proposed Tang.ɢwan — ḥačxwiqak — Tsig̱is MPA is located off the West Coast of Vancouver Island and is home to unique deepwater species, 46 seamounts and all of the known hydrothermal vents in Canada. Covering 133,019 square kilometres, it would be one of the biggest MPAs in Canada. 

At IMPAC5, Canada, the Council of the Haida Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Pacheedaht First Nation and Quatsino First Nation announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to co-manage the proposed MPA.

Soon after IMPAC5, Canada published draft regulations for the proposed MPA. We are still waiting for the regulations to be finalized and the site to be fully designated, but we are hopeful this will be achieved in time for the 2025 target. 

MPA Protection Standard

Canada also introduced an MPA Protection Standard at IMPAC5. The MPA Protection Standard focuses on four of the most harmful industrial ocean activities – bottom trawl fishing, mining, dumping, and oil and gas exploration, development,and production – that will be prohibited within all MPAs designated after 2019. While the MPA Protection Standard is a crucial policy to ensure Canada’s MPAs achieve their conservation objectives, it has yet to be fully implemented in law.

Transport Canada is in the process of developing “enhanced vessel discharge restrictions” that will restrict dumping from vessels in MPAs. Transport Canada anticipates that these regulations will be ready in 2025. 

Additionally, it is anticipated that Parks Canada will soon release draft regulations that will legally implement the MPA Protection standards in all MPAs under its purview. Similar legal changes are needed to implement these standards in MPAs overseen by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Wildlife Service. 

Deep Seabed Mining

Deep seabed mining has been a looming threat for ocean areas around the world, with a Vancouver-based company being one of its biggest proponents. After pressure from environmental groups (including West Coast), scientists and civil society, Canada announced at IMPAC5 that in the absence of adequate scientific knowledge and a legal framework for seabed mining in Canada, the government would not be authorizing seabed mining in waters under federal jurisdiction. 

In July 2023, Canada went a step further, announcing that it supports a moratorium on commercial seabed mining in international waters. This is great news as the international seabed accounts for roughly 54% of the total area of seabed in the world. 

This year, the International Seabed Authority will be holding important meetings about whether to adopt a mining code that allows seabed mining in international waters. It is welcome to see Canada part of the coalition of countries that is opposing this practice and we hope Canada will once again show leadership at these meetings. 

High Seas Treaty

A few weeks after IMPAC5, the High Seas Treaty was finalized after almost 20 years of negotiations. The Treaty (also known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty) will create a legal framework to permit the creation of marine protected areas in international waters, which, as mentioned above, encompass the majority of ocean areas in the world. The High Seas Treaty will thus be crucial to meeting the goals set out in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to protect 25% of ocean spaces by 2025 and 30% of ocean spaces by 2030.

For the Treaty to come into force, at least 60 nations have to sign and ratify the Treaty. So far 86 countries have signed the Treaty and it has only been ratified by one country – Palau. One notable country that has yet to sign the Treaty is Canada. This is especially disappointing as Canada has been a vocal proponent of the Treaty, notably calling for the timely conclusion of negotiations of the Treaty at IMPAC5. 

West Coast is part of a coalition of environmental groups who sent a letter to Canadian decision-makers urging them to sign the Treaty. We will continue to keep the pressure on until Canada signs and ratifies this crucial ocean treaty.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs)

Canada’s ambitious marine conservation goals cannot be met without respecting and working with First Nations who have rights and title to ocean spaces. IMPAC5 saw the Mamalilikulla First Nation, BC and Canada announce the closure of fishing grounds (thus creating a marine refuge under Canadian law) in Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala – also known as Lull Bay and Hoeya Sound, an area that had been designated as an IPCA by Mamalilikulla First Nation under its own Indigenous laws.

Since IMPAC5, more First Nations in BC have chosen to protect their territorial waters through establishing marine-based Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). This includes Tsawout First Nation who, in June 2023, established the QEN'T Marine Protected Area, protecting 155 square kilometres of its marine territory that are a critical source of traditional foods for the Nation. 

In November 2023, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation (KHFN) declared the Hada & Kakweikan Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area – 41,000 hectares of its land and waters that include spawning grounds for all five species of salmon. This came after KHFN successfully removed all Atlantic salmon fish farms from the wild salmon migratory routes in their territory. 

IPCAs continue the millennia-long legacy of First Nations’ leadership in protecting and stewarding marine life and reflect the crucial importance of First Nations’ inherent jurisdiction in long-term conservation measures.


An often repeated slogan at IMPAC5 was to keep “the ocean in the room.” The idea was to make sure governments always considered the ocean when making decisions. In the post-IMPAC5 world, we are going to need to make sure that mindset stays with our government officials.

While many of Canada’s commitments at IMPAC5 have yet to be fully achieved, much progress has been made and there is reason to be optimistic. But, it will be incumbent on civil society to make sure Canada does not back away from these commitments. West Coast will be doing everything we can to keep the ocean in the room. 

Photo: Matt Drenth via Unsplash

West Coast Marine Team