National Marine Conservation Area System

Sea to Sea to Sea


Canada's coastline: as long as 6 trips around the Earth. Our oceans would cover almost 60% of the country's land mass. They are vast, but their resilience has limits. Like our land, oceans need protection. Parks Canada is creating a system of National Marine Conservation Areas from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Arctic to the Great Lakes. Parks Canada is conserving these areas through science, protection, restoration, education and management for ecologically sustainable use.

We can’t do this alone. It’s all about working together. Canadians can be proud of protecting marine ecosystems, taking action on climate change and exploring these breathtaking places.

For nature. For us. For the future.


Parks Canada is responsible for National Parks and National Historic Sites. It is also charged with setting up a national system of marine protected areas, the National Marine Conservation Areas Program, to represent the full range of marine ecosystems found in Canada's Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans, and the Great Lakes.


Canada has over 243,000 km of coastline along three oceans and another 9500 km along the Great Lakes - the longest coastline in the world. The vast marine ecosystems off these coasts are varied, productive - and precious. We have a responsibility, both at the national and international levels, to protect examples of this marine heritage for present and future generations.


National Marine Conservation Areas, or NMCA for short, are marine areas managed to protect and conserve representative marine ecosystems and key features, while ensuring the ecologically sustainable use of marine resources. They include the seabed and water column above it and may also take in wetlands, estuaries, islands and other coastal lands.

NMCA are protected from such activities as ocean dumping, undersea mining, and oil and gas exploration and development. Traditional fishing activities would be permitted, but managed with the conservation of the ecosystem as the main goal.

NMCA s are established to represent a marine region and to demonstrate how protection and conservation practices can be harmonized with resource use in marine ecosystems. Their management requires the development of partnerships with regional stakeholders, coastal communities, Aboriginal peoples, provincial or territorial governments and other federal departments and agencies.

The NMCA Program is designed to:


National Marine Conservation Areas are established in a manner set out in the National Marine Conservation Areas Policy and guided by the national system plan, Sea to Sea to Sea. As Parks Canada's goal is to represent each of the 29 marine regions, establishment of new NMCAs is focused on the unrepresented regions.

The steps in the establishment of a new NMCA are as follows:

  1. Identifying representative marine areas (candidate sites) takes into consideration:
    • geologic features (such as cliffs, beaches, and islands on the coast; and shoals, basins, troughs and shelves on the seabed)
    • marine features (tides, ice, water masses, currents, salinity, freshwater influences)
    • marine and coastal habitats (wetlands, tidal flats, estuaries, high current areas, protected areas, inshore and offshore areas, shallow and deep water areas)
    • biology (plants, plankton, invertebrates, fish, seabirds and marine mammals)
    • archaeological and historic features
  2. Selecting a potential NMCA from the candidate sites identified involves looking at:
    • quality of regional representation
    • relative importance for maintaining biodiversity
    • protecting critical habitats of endangered species
    • exceptional natural and cultural features
    • existing or planned marine protected areas
    • minimizing conflict with resource users
    • threats to the sustainability of marine ecosystems
    • implications of Aboriginal claims and treaties
    • potential for education and enjoyment
    • value for ecological research and monitoring
  3. Assessing the feasibility of a NMCA requires the cooperation and support of:
    • other federal departments and provincial or territorial governments
    • local communities, regional stakeholders and Aboriginal peoples
    Extensive local consultations are undertaken. Working groups or advisory bodies may be set up to develop and assess proposals. Proposals may also be considered within other appropriate planning processes.
  4. Negotiating an agreement
    If the feasibility study demonstrates support for the initiative, a federal/provincial or federal/territorial agreement will be negotiated to set out the terms and conditions under which the NMCA will be established and managed.
  5. Establishment of a NMCA
    NMCAs are established under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act


There are currently five national marine conservation areas:

In addition to these, several other sites are proposed and are at various stages in the establishment process. The number of NMCAs is expected to grow in the coming years.

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