Thank you, and good morning, everyone.
I'm really pleased to be here today representing the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, also known as CPAWS. We're a national grassroots conservation charity, with 13 chapters across the country and a national office in Ottawa. We've worked for over 50 years to conserve Canada's public land and oceans, using the best available science to protect ecologically important areas for generations to come.
We have supported the establishment of many MPAs in Canada, including Gwaii Haanas, the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reefs, and St. Anns Bank. We were also involved in the passage of the NMCA Act. While we celebrate these successes, we also continue to advocate for effective protection of other sites, such as the Laurentian Channel, Scott Islands, and the Southern Strait of Georgia. We work with communities, indigenous people, scientists, other stakeholders, and decision-makers to find science-based solutions and to practise respectful advocacy.
Our 13 chapters are embedded in their local communities. We attend community events. We work with passionate community volunteers to inform and to engage the public in MPA planning and design processes. We work to give a voice to the public and to provide a platform for Canadians to share their views with decision-makers.
I have personally worked on MPAs for over 30 years and have been involved in all aspects of their establishment, from identifying candidate sites through to developing final management plans, and supporting monitoring and enforcement of sites once established. I have represented the conservation sector on numerous advisory committees for individual sites and have worked collaboratively on a variety of ocean policy issues.
MPAs are a tried and tested marine conservation tool. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, MPAs provide for the in situ conservation of biodiversity. A wealth of scientific evidence demonstrates that strongly protected MPAs protect vulnerable species, and help ecosystems and populations to recover and rebuild, and to produce more, larger, and more diverse communities of fish and other marine species. They can also produce benefits for fisheries, but only when they are well managed and strongly protected.
A recent global analysis of MPAs led by Dr. Graham Edgar demonstrated that the most effective MPAs are fully protected no-take areas that are well-enforced, large, mature, and isolated. The authors found that 59% of the MPAs they studied had only one or two of these features and showed no difference in biomass or diversity from fished areas. Numerous studies show that partially protected areas provide only limited benefits. They may help to prevent future degradation of marine ecosystems, but they are unlikely to support the recovery of populations.
CPAWS has also conducted reviews of Canadian MPAs, and we have found that less than 0.1% of our ocean is fully protected. This undermines their ability to provide the ecological and economic benefits that we're looking for.
Although there is an increasing body of science on best practices for MPA design and management, there are currently no protection standards for MPAs in Canada. Levels of protection can vary considerably, from fully protected no-take areas to partially protected multiple-use areas, to paper parks with little or no regulation of activities.
I'm currently here in Washington, DC, working with the IUCN to develop a set of international standards for MPAs that will be shared with IUCN member countries, including Canada, as well as with the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The lack of protection standards for MPAs in Canada is a significant challenge to their designation and effectiveness. As a result, every single activity must be negotiated for each MPA, even when they may be in direct contravention of the conservation objectives for that MPA. This has affected the consultation process. It has dragged it out. It has increased conflict, and it has resulted in very lengthy designation processes for MPAs in Canada.
We support the recommendations by several scientists and conservationists who have testified to you and called for MPA protection standards. As I mentioned, protection measures in Canada's MPAs vary considerably. In St. Anns Bank, for example, there are measures to fully protect ecosystems from fishing in over 75% of the area, and all of it is protected from oil and gas. However, in the proposed Laurentian Channel MPA, the current proposal is that oil and gas activities would be permitted in 80% of the area.
Scientific studies, as was mentioned, have clearly shown that MPAs with weak protection will not result in conservation or economic benefits. Based on the evidence, we believe that protection standards should prohibit bottom trawling, oil and gas activities, and deep-sea mining. All MPAs should be managed to ecological integrity and include mandatory and significant no-take areas.
Over the past year we have seen tremendous effort by the government to meet its marine conservation targets, including proposed amendments under Bill C-55 to the Oceans Act to establish interim protection for sites while they are being considered. Without these measures, harmful activities continue to damage ecosystems while the MPA is being developed. While freezing the footprint may prevent damage from new activities, it would not stop damage from existing activities, even when they have been scientifically proven to pose significant threats to known ecological values. For example, during the designation process of the glass sponge reefs MPA in B.C., scientists observed increasing damage from bottom-contact fishing gears, like prawn traps and long lines. The reefs are thousands of years old and may take hundreds of years to recover from damage, if they ever do. The glass sponge reefs were known to be at risk for 15 years before they were designated as an MPA. The longer an MPA consultation process takes, the more species and ecosystems remain at risk.
Over the past decade we've seen a global push to establish MPAs. Countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Mexico, Chile, and Palau have embraced large, effective MPAs. After years of slow progress, Canada is running to catch up to meet the international targets while we lag behind many countries in the world in MPA coverage. Most of our MPAs are small, and current protection standards have been weak.
Over the past two years Canada has increased protection from 1% to 7%, according to DFO numbers. We would point out, however, that this number also includes a large number of existing and new fisheries closures recently announced as “other measures”, rather than as MPAs, and less than 1% of these areas are fully protected, no-take areas. It's worth remembering that even if we protect 10% of Canada's oceans from all extractive activities, 90% still remains open to business. However, in in order to get there, Canada's pace and standards must change significantly if we are to protect our ocean ecosystems, and species like the southern resident killer whales on the B.C. coast and the north Atlantic right whales that rely on those healthy ecosystems.
The government's amendments to the Oceans Act are a good start, and we are pleased that your committee has added “ecological integrity” as a criterion for the establishment of MPAs. After years of advocating for these improvements, CPAWS is also pleased to see interim protections also incorporated and measures to support the prohibition of oil and gas activities. We're very pleased that Minister LeBlanc has announced his intention to establish a ministerial advisory panel on protection standards for MPAs.
We are just beginning to catch up with the international community. Canada has an upcoming opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in ocean conservation during its presidency of the G-7. We urge the government to encourage G7 nations to adopt the 2016 IUCN resolution passed by 100 countries at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii that calls for the protection of 30% of ocean territories by 2030. Not only would this make good ecological sense, it would also make good economic sense. In its report on MPA economics, management, and policy, the OECD cites a recent global study by Bander et al, published in 2015, which calculated the total ecosystem service benefits of 10% coverage by MPAs at between $600 billion to $900 billion U.S., and found that the benefits of expanding no-take areas to 10% and 30% exceeded any costs.
With some improvements to Canada's MPA legislation, stronger protections, and more protected areas, we can ensure that Canada will be an international leader, and that Canadians will benefit from healthy and productive oceans for generations to come.
Thank you again for this opportunity. I'm happy to answer any questions you have.