Background

Context for Policy Revisions

The creation of marine protected areas has become an urgent concern of many coastal states. To accelerate the establishment of a Canadian system of marine protected areas, Parks Canada developed a policy for the establishment of national marine parks. It received Ministerial approval in 1986 following extensive public consultations.

Since then, an agreement was signed in 1987 with Ontario to establish Fathom Five in Georgian Bay as Canada's first national marine park. In 1988, Canada signed an agreement with British Columbia calling for the creation of a marine park at South Moresby in the Queen Charlotte Islands, and with Quebec in 1990 to examine the feasibility of establishing a joint federal provincial marine park at the confluence of the Saguenay Fiord and St. Lawrence Estuary. These new marine park proposals, as well as preliminary work on other park proposals, have provided considerable practical experience and opportunity for Parks Canada staff to work with officials from other government agencies and the public to implement the 1986 policy.

During this period, considerable effort has been spent at the national and international levels examining the fundamental principles and practices associated with planning and managing systems of marine protected areas. At the national level, Parks Canada and various advisory groups, interest groups and universities have sponsored several workshops, seminars and publications providing valuable insight and support for the establishment of marine protected areas in Canadian waters. As well, public consultation on the proposed revision to this policy has provided many useful suggestions.

At the international level, the 4th World Wilderness Congress (1987) and the 17th General Assembly of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (1988) passed important resolutions setting out a broad policy framework for the planning and management of marine protected areas. In 1992, the IUCN prepared more detailed guidelines on marine protected areas that were tabled at the 4th World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas.

The international community is urging all states to develop national and global representative systems of marine protected areas in order to meet the objectives of the World Conservation Strategy. Citing the Parks Canada approach as a possible model, coastal states are urged to develop a biogeographical classification system to aid in the selection of a truly representative system of marine protected areas. To help ensure their long-term viability, they urge that the establishment of marine protected areas be based on a high level of cooperation between the public and all levels of government. Furthermore, the areas set aside should be relatively large and managed on a sustainable basis.

While the basic tenets of the 1986 National Marine Parks Policy remain, the revised policy responds to the broad experience gained at all levels over the past several years, and to recent public comments. Policies have required some restructuring and clarification and some new principles and concepts have been introduced which Parks Canada hopes will facilitate the planning and management of a national system of marine protected areas in Canada. One of the changes made has been to refer to these areas as "national marine conservation areas" instead of "national marine parks." Parks Canada believes that this designation more accurately reflects the purpose and objectives of these areas.


Management and Planning Considerations in the Marine Environment
The policy recognizes that planning and management considerations in the marine environment differ from those associated with terrestrial national parks.

Differences in the nature of marine ecosystems are a fundamental consideration. For example, terrestrial parks are usually associated with semi-closed ecosystems dominated by components that are essentially fixed in space and subject to rates of change over relatively long periods of time. On the other hand, marine protected areas are almost always associated with open ecosystems that are large and dynamic and where rates of change associated with many important ecological processes involve relatively little time. Several pelagic, demersal and anadromous fish species and many of the marine mammals and invertebrate species undertake far-ranging migrations associated with their feeding or reproductive cycles.

The water column is the fundamental component in most marine ecosystems. The density of sea water allows it to suspend and transport materials over great distances and thereby link geographically isolated areas. It provides a transportation medium for pollutants that enter the sea from the atmosphere or from terrestrial run-off, and renders marine protected areas vulnerable to a wide range of potentially harmful downstream effects. This characteristic also generally affords marine ecosystems a greater capacity for natural regeneration than their terrestrial counterparts. The water column sustains primary production and provides for most of the habitat requirements of marine plants and animals (including benthic communities) through the transportation of nutrients, food and their larvae.

The nature and effect of human activities in the marine environment also differ from those on land. Maintaining the structural integrity of terrestrial ecosystems due to habitat loss and fragmentation associated with activities such as forestry, agriculture and transportation are usually critical concerns on land. However, they are less of a concern in marine environments. (Exceptions apply to estuarine and near-shore areas.) Of far greater concern in the sea are the effects of pollution and over-exploitation of resources that gradually alter physical, chemical and biological processes in ways that are not often immediately apparent.

It is important to understand that, for the most part, our knowledge of marine ecosystems lags far behind that of terrestrial ecosystems. Furthermore, the technology available to study marine ecosystems is not as extensive or as revealing as that used on land, and the logistics of operating in the marine environment make marine research a generally costly proposition.

The complexity of legislation and jurisdictions affecting the marine environment is also a significant consideration. For example, within Canada, there are at least 36 federal acts and 20 provincial and territorial acts together with numerous international conventions and accords that relate to the protection and use of the marine environment and marine resources. In view of the openness of marine ecosystems and the high degree of connectivity between marine environments and between these and upstream terrestrial activities, the long-term viability of marine protected areas will require close collaboration and cooperation across many jurisdictional boundaries.

The policy also recognizes the need for flexibility in the approach to the planning and management of these areas since from region to region, Canadians view the marine environment and the role of marine protected areas quite differently. This is a reflection of strongly held social and economic values concerning the protection and use of the marine environment and its resources. While Parks Canada believes these areas must make a meaningful contribution to the protection of Canada's marine heritage, it also believes that the objectives for these areas are unlikely to be achieved without the cooperation, support and continued involvement of those most directly affected by their establishment.

In addition to their natural features, most national marine conservation areas contain significant cultural resources. These will be managed according to the Cultural Resource Management Policy found in Part III of this document.


The Concept of A National Marine Conservation Area

In keeping with guidance from the IUCN, Parks Canada is committed to establishing a system of marine protected areas that is representative of the full range of Canada's marine environments. For this reason, and to assist in their effective conservation, these areas will ideally be quite large. For example, the proposed study area for the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area encompasses 3180 km2 of coastal waters.

National marine conservation areas will include the sea bed, its subsoil and the overlying water column. In coastal areas, they may include wetlands, river estuaries, islands and other coastal lands. However, they may also be established wholly offshore to protect marine areas some distance from Canada's coastline.

Since marine protected areas are vulnerable to downstream effects associated with adjacent terrestrial areas, establishing a marine conservation area in proximity to an existing national park or another protected area could provide additional protection to a conservation area.

The management philosophy associated with national marine conservation areas will differ from that in terrestrial national parks in one very important respect. Instead of trying to protect marine ecosystems in a state essentially unaltered by human activity, which is the primary goal in terrestrial national parks, management effort in national marine conservation areas will be directed towards the conservation of these areas in the sense that it is defined in the World Conservation Strategy. Therefore, the focus will be on the management of a wide range of human activities to ensure the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining the potential of the area to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations. In this context, conservation embraces a number of management concepts including preservation, maintenance, sustainable use, and restoration of the natural marine environment.

The success of this program will hinge on the establishment of integrated management systems which, ideally, should help to coordinate the management of marine and terrestrial areas well beyond the boundaries of a national marine conservation area. In some cases, this would involve the participation of Parks Canada in integrated management programs sponsored by other agencies. In other instances, it will require that Parks Canada take a lead role in facilitating and coordinating the efforts of government and non-government agencies and affected users to collaborate and share in the stewardship of these areas. In the long term, it is hoped that these areas might serve as models for a more holistic approach to the planning and management of marine environments.

An essential feature of all national marine conservation areas will be the setting aside of some zones for protection purposes. These zones will recognize the existence of particularly significant and vulnerable ecosystem components or cultural resources, their importance for ecological research or environmental monitoring, and their potential for non-consumptive recreational use and public education. These zones would be identified during the preparation of a proposal to create a national marine conservation area.

While amendments were made to the National Parks Act in 1988 to allow for the establishment of marine protected areas on an interim basis, new legislation will be required to better reflect the mandate and overall responsibility of the Minister for the administration, control and coordinated management of national marine conservation areas to ensure the protection of their associated marine ecosystems. This legislation must also recognize the responsibilities of other federal and provincial ministers in areas such as the administration and control of fisheries, navigation and shipping.