Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for the invitation to speak before you as part of your study.
I have been conducting fundamental research that relates directly to key principles used in the design of marine protected areas—in particular, connectivity—as well as doing more applied research that directly pertains to particular areas under consideration or existing for about 20 years.
Most recently, my research group provided the data that led to the closures of Eastern Jordan Basin and Corsair and Georges Canyons as sensitive benthic areas in the Maritimes.
In addition to my research, I regularly provide advice to national and international fora, such as the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat process on the design of marine protected areas, the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents Area Technical Advisory Committee, and the European Commission on the development of a strategic environmental management plan for the Atlantic Ocean.
In my opening statement today I want to focus on three main points about the science of marine protected areas.
I would like to start with the fact that extensive evidence that is published in the scientific literature supports the design of networks of MPAs that encompass at least 10% of the ocean, include a variety of ecosystems and habitats, and constitute a coherent assemblage of individual but linked MPAs.
The scientific literature has shown that a target of 30% is needed to effectively protect both the biodiversity and the ecosystem services that the ocean provides. In fact, in 2014, the World Parks Congress also recommended a target of 30% no-take MPA coverage worldwide.
The level of protection within an MPA will determine its effectiveness. Full protection is more effective than partial protection. Zoning of MPAs can allow some portions to be completely protected from any human activities and maximize benefits.
Protection should be provided for the long term, in perpetuity. The scientific literature has indicated that recovery of ecosystems can take many years and depend on a number of factors, such as the types of organisms, the uniqueness of the habitat, and the isolation of the MPA. For example, in our work we have shown that recovery of deepwater corals was not consistent after 11 years of protection. A review of the global scientific literature on MPAs indicated that it was only after 15 years that the positive effects of protection on fish became consistent.
MPAs are meant to protect a variety of species, habitats, and ecosystems, each with different characteristics. Therefore, MPAs cannot all be created equal. For example, the coastal and offshore environments have very different spatial extents, species, linkages with neighbouring habitats, and remoteness. Species can have very different lifestyles, occupy areas of different size, and move over different distances. Habitats can be unique and vulnerable, or not. Connections between areas can exist because of animal movement or because of exchange of resources and materials. All these factors will be important in deciding the size of individual MPAs, as well as the spacing between MPAs in a network.
It is important to remember that a network is defined as a collection of individual MPAs or reserves operating co-operatively and synergistically, at various spatial scales, and with a range of protection levels that are designed to meet objectives that a single reserve on its own cannot.
The second point I would like to make is to stress the importance of monitoring, which is the collection of data in a regular and systematic way to assess the effectiveness of MPAs in meeting their conservation targets.
Monitoring requires clear and measurable targets such as a percentage increase in a population within an MPA, or a difference in average size of a species, or a population inside versus outside the MPA. It requires the collection of data in an unbiased, scientific way that can directly measure change. Monitoring before the establishment of MPAs can collect baseline data in areas with little to no available information on habitats and ecosystems. Monitoring must be spatially and temporally efficient to balance available capacity with sufficient data.
According to DFO, Canada’s ocean estate covers a surface area of approximately 7.1 million square kilometres. Of that, 10% is 710,000 square kilometres; and 30% is more than 2.1 million square kilometres. That's a vast expanse.
Some MPAs will be placed in remote locations, such as offshore or in the Arctic. Clearly, monitoring must be planned carefully, because it can consume many resources, but without monitoring we will not know how we are doing. We will not have a scorecard.
The third point I would like to make is that the scientific literature points to adaptive management as the best way to address ineffective protection. Adaptive management is an iterative process of decision-making that aims to reduce uncertainty by continuously evaluating new information in light of the conservation objectives and, if needed, making adjustments—that is, learning by doing. For example, if the precautionary approach is used in the initial design because of data gaps, the design can be modified as data come in. Boundaries may be adjusted or zoning considerations may be revisited if the proposed zoning proves ineffective.
Adaptive management is an extremely useful tool, because it can be applied when monitoring indicates that management action does not meet its targets or when information availability increases in areas with initially low baseline data or when conditions change as a result of local human pressures or climate change.
To be successful, adaptive management requires effective monitoring and transparency, but if adopted, it allows for network design to proceed even in the absence of extensive data, because adjustments can be made along the way.
To summarize, extensive scientific evidence exists to inform the design of networks of MPAs, to support efficient monitoring of the effectiveness of MPAs, and to recommend adaptive management of MPAs.
Next, I would like to present three suggestions on the way forward.
One has to do with a management plan.
Each MPA and MPA network should have a clear management plan that ensures efficient monitoring and evidence-based assessment of effectiveness. To determine effectiveness, MPAs must have clear conservation priorities and measurable targets, as well as criteria for determining whether the targets are being met. Additional targets should be defined for the network of MPAs in a region, reflecting the conservation priorities that can be achieved only by the interconnectedness of individual MPAs. Systematic monitoring will measure targets and assess them using indicators of effectiveness. There are a large range of indicators recommended in the scientific literature, and an effective management plan should select the ones that are most appropriate for the particular conservation priority.
As I mentioned before, it should be recognized that evidence will need to be collected over long periods—likely more than a decade—to determine effectiveness.
The second recommendation has to do with counting toward the 10% and beyond.
It is very unlikely that Canada will meet the 10% target by 2020 using MPAs established only under the Oceans Act. Current MPAs, as well as areas proposed by DFO, Parks Canada, and Environment Canada, cover only approximately 1.5%. It is my understanding from discussions with ocean managers that it takes an average of seven years to establish an MPA under the Oceans Act. Inclusion of other effective area-based conservation measures needs to be considered. However, the appropriateness of each of these measures must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Specific questions that need to be addressed include the following: Do these areas fall under the federal marine protected area strategy following the strategic priorities of any of the three core federal programs? Additionally, are these areas spatially defined? Do they have clear conservation objectives and targets? Are they managed year-round, over the long term, or in perpetuity?
Here I would also like to reiterate that the scientific evidence recommends a target of 30%, not 10%. Our only chance to meet this more effective target within a reasonable time frame is to give these other measures serious consideration for inclusion.
The third point has already been suggested, which is to increase public engagement. Relevant government agencies should use a systematic approach to provide the Canadian public with the current scientific evidence on MPAs. Specifically, they should provide information on the current status of MPAs in Canada: What are the targets we have committed to, and what is the proposed timeline for achieving them? How close are we currently to our target? What are the conservation priorities for MPAs? What are the different types of MPAs, and who is responsible for managing them?
They should present the scientific evidence on important design elements for effective MPAs, such as size, location, and full versus partial protection. They should also present the scientific evidence on the benefits of effective MPAs, such as increased biodiversity, increased biomass, and protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems and critical habitat.
A recent study with a survey of Canadians on their perception on 10 ocean-derived benefits reported that “clean waters” is highly important to them, and 83% of Canadians favoured non-extractive rather than extractive benefits from the ocean. Informed Canadians can better assess ecological, sociological, and economic trade-offs and decide on their willingness to pay for MPAs.
In closing, I would be happy to address any comments or any questions by the committee.