The Establishment of a National Marine Conservation Area in Lake Superior

The Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act conveys the Government of Canada’s vision to establish national marine conservation areas (NMCAs) for the purpose of protecting and conserving representative marine areas for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada and the world. NMCAs contribute to the expanding Canadian and global networks of marine protected areas and demonstrate a firm commitment to celebrating these special places as part of our heritage for years to come.

The federal-provincial agreement to establish an NMCA in Lake Superior identifies an area of approximately 10,000 km2 including lakebed, shoals and islands and provides a broad framework for planning and management. A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was conducted, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Extensive consultations with other government agencies, coastal communities, First Nations and stakeholders resulted in an NMCA proposal that enjoys significant public support. The federal-provincial agreement sets out the boundaries of the NMCA, clarifies the roles and responsibilities of Canada and Ontario in the future management of the area and includes provisions for interim management, a management advisory board and a federal-provincial harmonization committee. A separate memorandum of understanding with First Nations has been signed to confirm that they and Parks Canada will continue to detail the involvement of First Nations in the planning and management of the NMCA and the opportunities that it will provide.

The greatest environmental benefit to the region is enhanced protection and conservation for one third of the Canadian side of the Lake Superior. Educational programming and outreach and new opportunities for visitor experience, along with enhanced research and monitoring activities, will together enrich our knowledge and appreciation of this globally significant freshwater ecosystem. Together, these benefits will support Parks Canada’s strategic goal that Canadians have a strong sense of connection, through meaningful experiences, to their national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas and that these protected places are enjoyed in ways that leave them unimpaired for present and future generations.

There are also economic benefits associated with this agreement, including a federal investment of $20 million in capital expenditures and $16 million in operating costs over the initial 10 year period. Protection of the marine environment while enabling ecologically sustainable use is fundamental to the social, cultural and economic well-being of coastal communities. To this end, the NMCA is expected to result in a modest growth in tourism with indirect benefits in the service sector, employment and economic diversification.

Potential negative impacts to aquatic habitats, sensitive or fragile island ecosystems or underwater shipwrecks could result from an increase in visitation to the area. These potential impacts will be managed through the Parks Canada’s management planning process, education, zoning, regulatory measures, compliance and enforcement where necessary.

The signing of this agreement will help maintain water quality and biological diversity in Lake Superior, support an ecosystem management approach and utilize the precautionary principle which are all important concepts for protecting the integrity of the marine environment.