The governments of Canada and British Columbia along with 15 First Nations have released a blueprint for setting up a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) covering a third of the Northern Shelf Bioregion, as Pew Charitable Trusts published a mapping tool to help plan such MPA networks in international waters.
After working on a strategy to protect the biodiversity rich waters spanning from the northern half of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border for over a decade, the involved governments and First Nations on Sunday published a blueprint that would see 30,500 square kilometres protected of a total area size of 102,000 sq. km.
Around 62% of the areas are already under protection while the rest would be new.
“This action plan lays the foundation for meaningful protection of the valuable marine environment off the northern coast of British Columbia,” said federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.
“This is one more big step forward toward reaching our goal of protecting 30% of Canada’s lands and waters by 2030, an undertaking that will only be possible if we achieve the kind of collaboration we had with this plan.”
When rolled out, some 20-50% of the network will be fully protected, while the remainder will allow for a selection of human uses while still meeting conservation targets, the government said.
Some of the new MPAs will be established by 2025, some by 2030, while some will require more planning and have yet to be given a timeline.
“Our Nations have a solid track record proving that Indigenous-led conservation works for nature and for people. Our Marine Protected Area network, together with our collaborative governance agreement, extends our vision for conservation and human well-being from the Great Bear Rainforest into the adjoining waters,” said Dallas Smith, board president of the Nanwakolas Council Society.
“As we tackle the urgent challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, this is the model the world needs now.”
The announcement was made as Canada is currently hosting the IMPAC5 congress, where 3,000 government officials, scientists, conservationists, and Indigenous people have gathered to discuss pathways to meeting the global target of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
The issue of how to put together MPA networks in a manner that gives the best biodiversity outcome was prominent at the conference over the weekend.
US-based Pew Charitable Trusts at the conference launched a data-driven mapping tool called Protect High Seas, which it said will allow governments, policymakers, and the public to develop a conservation strategy to safeguard ocean areas beyond national jurisdictions.
“By sliding dials of various features on the mapping tool, users can prioritise protecting ocean areas with the greatest biodiversity or areas where industries such as fishing would be least affected by the creation of [an MPA],” Pew said on its website.
“Based on these selections, the tool will generate a map of high seas priority areas ripe for protection that meet the user’s conservation goals and improve the health of the ocean.”
The release comes as UN delegates meet in New York later this month in another attempt at finalising an international treaty for biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions (BBNJ), after failing to reach a full agreement at the previous attempt in August last year.
“MPAs – especially no-take reserves, where fishing is prohibited – are incredibly effective conservation tools that safeguard biodiversity, protect top predators, maintain ecosystem balance, and build resilience to climate change,” Pew said.
“In the high seas, networks of MPAs that create meaningful links across habitats could benefit highly migratory species, such as whales and turtles.”
By Stian Reklev – firstname.lastname@example.org
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