Back to top

Marine Protected Areas

Sea otter

MPAs, like parks on land, can serve as sanctuaries from the impacts of damaging human activities – allowing for ecosystems to recover and species to thrive. Well-protected and managed MPAs maintain local cultures, economies and livelihoods that are intricately linked to the marine environment.

Law is a key tool for MPAs, just as it is for parks on land. Canada’s legal system for MPAs needs revitalization to accelerate the process of designation and establish more detailed and stringent obligations for MPAs.

To sustain marine ecosystems and biodiversity, MPAs and MPA law should limit human activity. This includes establishing “no-take” areas, which prohibit all forms of damaging resource extraction. Scientists agree that no-take areas are critical for ocean health. However, most MPAs in Canada don’t live up to these scientifically-determined best practices. Minimum standards of protection for all designated protected areas in Canada are needed.

Jurisdiction in the marine area is complex, as this infographic shows. A variety of laws authorize marine protected areas on the BC coast, at all levels of government.

At the federal level, the Canadian government has reaffirmed its commitment to reach and exceed internationally-agreed goals of protecting at least 10% of our ocean areas by 2020. Three primary federal laws authorize creation of MPAs:

  • the Oceans Act,
  • the National Wildlife Act, and the
  • National Marine Conservation Areas Act.

We are working to strengthen protection of all these laws through many activities such as research; writing briefs, reports and peer reviewed articles; speaking at conferences and community dialogues, and organizing and hosting workshops.

A number of provincial laws also authorize MPAs, including the innovative ‘conservancy’ designation under the provincial Parks Act.

First Nations have designated marine areas for protection under their own laws and through the RELAW program we are working with Nations on contemporary Indigenous legal instruments for marine protection.

We are working to educate the public about this complex set of laws and to improve federal, provincial and Indigenous laws to protect Canada’s ocean biodiversity and achieve Canada’s commitments on ocean protection.

To learn more, please see:

Top photo: Jarod Towers