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Shipping in Protected Areas

Freighter at Deltaport, BC (Photo: Michael Chu)

The Pacific coast is home to important marine shipping routes, transporting many goods and services that we use in our daily lives. And the number of ships transiting Canadian waters and calling in at west coast ports is on the rise.

This increase in shipping traffic means increased risks and potential impacts to marine ecosystems and species. Some risks from shipping include vessel strikes to marine mammals, underwater noise pollution and, of course, oil spills.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are one tool available to mitigate stressors from human activities on important areas of the ocean. And, while certain activities like fishing are often the focus of MPA discussions, shipping is often not addressed at all – in part due to complexity in the regulation of these activities, which are subject to a number of international and national laws.

West Coast has worked with partners at WWF-Canada and East Coast Environmental Law to identify the legal tools that we already have to regulate shipping in MPAs, and to understand where Canada’s laws could be stronger and better. Together, we produced a toolkit to share the impacts of shipping in MPAs and how the law can be used to reduce those impacts.


Click here to view the toolkit.

In addition to shipping traffic, large passenger vessels such as cruise ships can also cause significant pollution and other impacts to marine ecosystems. This 2021 report by West Coast Environmental Law and Stand.earth reveals the implications of Canada’s weak vessel pollution regulations, calling for stronger rules and provisions that prohibit harmful dumping in MPAs.

In recent years, federal laws have seen several changes that will help improve Canada’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills and other shipping-related impacts – including the new Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, and recent amendments to the Canada Shipping Act.

In addition, the federal government has used special legal tools to address shipping impacts on endangered species. For example, the Minister of Transport issued a Ministerial order under the Canada Shipping Act to protect the Salish Sea’s southern resident killer whales. This order establishes no-go zones within their critical habitat, and prohibits vessels from approaching within 400m of the at-risk whales.

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Photo credit: Michael Chu