Praise and concern over vast area fast-tracked for protection

Accelerated schedule to meet targets should not come at the expense of strong protections, WWF-Canada cautions

VICTORIA, May 25, 2017 /CNW/ - WWF-Canada is encouraged by the federal government's announcement of a new Area of Interest (AOI) for designation as an Oceans Act Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Pacific ocean west of Vancouver Island. However, the AOI would have greater conservation impact if it included a portion of the adjacent Shelf Slope, which was also identified as an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA).

The proposed AOI

  • The announced area includes undersea hydrothermal vents as well as a system of seamounts.
  • The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has said the area will become an MPA by 2020. This is significantly faster than the current schedule for MPA designation, which is about seven years.
  • While the AOI announcement itself provides no protections, it is the first step in protecting all or part of the area as an MPA. The DFO's accelerated schedule will mean the finalized MPA will count towards Canada's goal of protecting 10 per cent of its marine areas by 2020.
  • The area is very large, about 140,000 sq. km, which is equivalent to the size of three Great Lakes put together (Erie, Huron and Michigan). It is the biggest AOI in Canada to date.
  • At its closest, the AOI is about 80 km from the west coast of Vancouver Island, but on average it is 100-150 km from the coast, extending south to the Canada-U.S. border.

 

What's unique about the Pacific Offshore AOI

  • Parts of the AOI were previously identified as an EBSA due to certain features such as unique hydrothermal vents, which are fissures in the seabed that spew out geothermally heated and mineral-rich water, offering a home to a unique assemblage of wildlife.
  • The area also contains several seamounts, underwater mountains formed by volcanic activity. Organisms surrounding seamounts and hydrothermal vents form unique biological communities that can be vulnerable to human pressures.

 

WWF-Canada's role

  • WWF-Canada will work to ensure a future MPA is designed to adequately protect the hydrothermal vents and seamounts of the AOI, so that damaging activities such as mining or oil and gas exploitation are banned in the MPA.
  • A future MPA would have a greater positive impact if it connected to a wider network of protected areas in the Offshore Pacific Bioregion to increase ecological resilience and enhance ecosystems' ability to adapt to climate change.
  • A future MPA would have a greater conservation impact if it included portions of nearby Shelf Slope, which was identified as an EBSA for its high productivity and importance for species diversity.
  • WWF-Canada considers the AOI announcement significant for conservation, but cautions that large, pristine sites should not be created at the expense of MPAs close to shore where humans have the most impact on the ocean.
  • DFO has indicated that fisheries closures will be implemented in the area in 2017. WWF-Canada is concerned that closures need to be located in such a way as to protect the corals and communities of species that rely on the hydrothermal vents. These vulnerable features also need protection from future and emerging threats, such as deep-sea mining.

 

David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada, says:
"WWF-Canada is pleased to see such a large area identified, and we look forward to participating in the process as it moves towards designation as a marine protected area under the Oceans Act. We will work to ensure that the right area is being protected with the strongest measures, to safeguard marine spaces that have been identified as unique and biologically significant."

About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.

SOURCE WWF-Canada

For further information: Catharine Tunnacliffe, communications specialist, ctunnacliffe@wwfcanada.org, +1 647-268-9698

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