Ocean Matters

Marine Protected Areas: Parks for the Oceans!


Marine Conservation
Terrestrial vs. Marine Systems
What is an MPA?
Purpose of an MPA
MPAs in Canada
Elsewhere in the world...
It's not easy being green...


Marine Conservation:

For many years, the ocean was considered to be a bottomless resource, but now we can easily see that this is not the case. Over-fishing, global warming, pollution, and habitat destruction are among the many problems that marine organisms must face. Humans have become public enemy number one! Several strategies are now used in order to minimize human impact on the ocean. For instance, there are fishing, whaling, and harvesting restrictions or bans on many species. More care is taken not to pollute the oceans. Many conservation groups have formed that place emphasis on protecting the marine environment. And…marine protected areas have been formed!

Terrestrial vs. Marine Systems:

A marine reserve cannot be set-up or managed in the same way as a terrestrial reserve because there are many differences between the two systems. Generally speaking, just less information is known about marine systems. In order to successfully protect an ecosystem, researchers need to know about how the organisms in that ecosystem live and how they interact with one another. Marine systems are also affected but a much larger area due to the fluid dynamic of the system. Animals generally travel longer distances, and it is easier for pollution from far away to affect a distant part of the ocean. Marine processes also tend to be more unpredictable, perhaps because we know less about them. Because of these differences, marine systems must be managed in their own, unique way.

What is an MPA?

Terrestrial parks have existed for hundreds of years, but even though the marine environment is the largest biome on Earth, is the it wasn't until 60 years ago that the first Marine Protected Area (MPA) was created. The question "What is an MPA?" is still very difficult to answer. Here are just a few definitions suggested by various governments and organizations:

"Any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment."
-The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

"…refers to any offshore or coastal area that is legally designated to protect plants, animals, or ecosystems"
-Canadian Wildlife Service

"…an area of the sea that forms part of the internal waters of Canada (12 nautical miles) or the exclusive economic zone of Canada (to 200 nautical miles); and has been designated for special protection under the Oceans Act for one or more purposes"
-Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada

"…an area of sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means"
-Environment Australia

Purpose of MPAs:

It is easy for everyone to have a slightly different definition of an MPA, because MPAs can provided a wide variety of functions depending on the goals of the people in charge and the needs of the area. For instance, MPAs range from "no take" zones, where no extraction of natural resources can take place, to "multiple use" areas, which allow sustainable use of resources, recreational, research, and educational activities. Marine Protected Areas cannot protect marine life against all threats, but they are useful in preventing over-harvesting, destruction of coastal habitat, and some types of pollution.

MPAs in Canada:

Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world (244 000km)! Check out DFO's Marine Protected Area site for the most up-to-date information!

Who creates MPAs in Canada?

Canada has several governmental agencies that are legislated in set-up MPAs. In British Columbia, MPAs are developed by:

Parks Canada (National Marine Conservation Areas - NMCAs
Environment Canada - Canadian Wildlife Service (Marine Wildlife Areas)
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)

Race Rocks is one of Canada's MPA's. Race Rocks is a diverse habitat found just off the southern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The unususally strong currents surrounding Race Rocks bring in lots of nutrients to support a diverse population of invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals. In 1980 students at the local Lester B. Pearson College had Race Rocks designated as an Ecological Reserve. The students, the provincial and federal governments, and the local Coast Salish First Nations worked together cooperatively, considering the needs of all people involved. Now, harvesting of living resources from Race Rocks is prohibited, except subject to existing Aboriginal and treaty rights. The purpose of this MPA is to conserve endangered and threatened species and their habitat. What an excellent example of people working together to achieve a common goal! Check out the awesome Race Rock website created and maintained by Lester B. Pearson students.

Elsewhere in the world...

Australia and New Zealand are two other countries, among others, that have had great success in establishing MPAs. Australia boasts the world's two largest MPAs: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the Great Australian Bight Marine Park.

The Great Barrier Reef Park is patrolled on a daily basis by boats and planes to make sure all is in order. This site is used primarily for educational and recreational purposes. New Zealand has successfully established more than 25 MPAs.

It's not easy being green...

Although we would all like to see what is best for the environment, conservationists have to take into account ecology (the environment), economics (the needs of fishermen, eco-tourism companies), and sociology (the needs of the community and the rights of First Nations) when creating an MPA. Because these needs often conflict, it makes it very difficult to come to a common solution. We maybe less concerned about protecting the marine environment because we can't see the damage we do to the ocean - "Out of sight, out of mind". But, working together, we can come up with solutions that will protect our marine environment and consider human requirements as well!

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