The federal government deserves a pat on the back for its announcement on May 24 that it plans to protect 140,000 square kilometres of ocean off the west coast of Vancouver Island, stretching out to the western edge of Canada's 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Covering an area twice the size of New Brunswick, this proposed marine protected area would encompass spectacular seamounts (underwater mountains) and hydrothermal vents, which have important ecosystem functions.
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The David Suzuki Foundation and other organizations are calling for Canada's government to meet its international commitment to protect a least 10 per cent of its marine area by 2020.
Although this newly proposed large offshore protected area will move Canada toward that goal, it will not protect the most threatened species and marine habitats on the Pacific Coast. With little industrial activity or fishing in the area, it's unlikely that current industrial activities will need to be curtailed. The problem? Protecting a large offshore area that faces few threats could siphon off limited resources urgently needed to protect threatened and at-risk species, such as southern resident killer whales, and their habitat.
First Nations, the provincial government and stakeholders in B.C. are immersed in marine planning and marine protected area network establishment processes that show great promise to protect biodiversity over a broader range of threatened environments on B.C.'s central and north coast, known as the northern bio-shelf region. These planning initiatives need ongoing support and a fair share of the limited capacity government agencies have to establish marine protected areas.
So, kudos to the feds for moving Canada closer to marine protection targets. We hope the next announcement for marine protection will focus on marine plans and broad consultation in areas of the coast threatened by industry, and that new plans will support Indigenous cultural values and interests.