1.0 The National Marine Conservation Areas System

1.0 The National Marine Conservation Areas System

National marine conservation areas are intended to conserve representative examples of Canada's marine environments, coastal zone, and Great Lakes. Based on current scientific information, Canada's oceans and Great Lakes have been divided into 29 marine regions, each of which warrants representation in the system of national marine conservation areas. Efforts to create new marine conservation areas are concentrated on those marine regions that are unrepresented.

Establishment of new marine conservation areas will be guided by the National Marine Conservation Area System Plan. The Plan will provide a description of the 29 marine regions, and the status of system planning for each. Parks Canada will periodically update the Plan, including the listing of representative marine areas identified during regional analysis studies. In addition, Parks Canada will keep an Action Plan up to date to describe the activities that must be undertaken to complete the representation of each of the marine regions.

Parks Canada, acting alone, cannot protect all the areas identified as representative of Canada's marine regions. But by making public the Systems Plan and Action Plan, Parks Canada hopes to encourage other public agencies and appropriate private organizations to work to protect areas that will not be included within the national marine conservation area system.

Public support and the cooperation of other levels of government are essential in establishing new national marine conservation areas or adjusting the boundaries of existing ones. The establishment process is therefore based upon public consultation and intergovernmental cooperation.

There is no rigid process for establishing national marine conservation areas. Each situation is unique and the steps leading up to their creation will reflect individual circumstances. The normal sequence, however, is characterized by five steps:

  • identifying representative marine areas;
  • selecting a potential national marine conservation area;
  • assessing marine conservation area feasibility;
  • negotiating a marine conservation area agreement; and
  • establishing a new national marine conservation area in legislation.

The following policies related to marine conservation area establishment are grouped under these headings.

1.1 Identifying Representative Marine Areas

Representative marine areas will be identified for those marine regions that are not represented in the system. The following criteria are used:

i) the area must portray the geological, oceanographic, biological and ecosystem diversity that is characteristic of the marine region; and
ii) the area's ecosystems must be in a healthy, natural state, or, if they are stressed or significant environmental degradation has taken place, restoration and maintenance of their essential structure and function must be considered feasible.

Representative marine areas will be identified in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, other federal agencies and with the interested public.

Representative marine areas will be identified regardless of the current protected status or jurisdiction.

1.2 Selecting Potential National Marine Conservation Areas

Potential national marine conservation areas will be selected from among the representative marine areas, in those marine regions which do not already have adequate representation in the system of marine conservation areas.

In selecting potential national marine conservation areas, consideration will be given to a wide range of factors including:

i) the extent to which the area represents the ecosystem diversity of the marine region;

ii) the degree to which the area contributes to the maintenance of essential ecological processes and life support systems for downstream areas (e.g., the protection of nursery or juvenile rearing areas);

iii) the importance of the area in maintaining biodiversity and protecting critical habitats of rare, threatened or endangered species;

iv) the occurrence of exceptional natural phenomena and cultural resources;

v) the existing or potential value of the area for ecological research and monitoring;

vi) opportunities for public understanding; education and enjoyment;

vii) possible threats to the long-term sustainability of the area's marine ecosystems as well as those of the surrounding lands;

viii) minimizing conflict with existing or probable marine resource uses such as significant commercial fishing areas, mineral or energy resources, navigation routes or defence exercise areas;

ix) complementarity with the objectives of existing or planned protected marine or coastal areas of other jurisdictions in the marine region;

x) the potential of establishing an adjacent national park or national park reserve representative of its natural region;

xi) the potential to cooperatively manage existing and potential uses of the marine resources within and adjacent to the potential marine conservation area on a sustainable basis, compatible with the objective of protecting its biotic resources and other park values; and

xii) the implications of comprehensive land claims and treaties with Aboriginal peoples.

A composite national marine conservation area consisting of two or more non-contiguous areas may be considered where it will facilitate achieving marine conservation area identification and selection objectives.

Potential national marine conservation areas will be selected in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, other federal agencies, non-government organizations, and the interested public.

1.3 Assessing National Marine Conservation Areas Feasibility

To initiate an assessment of the feasibility of a marine conservation area, Parks Canada will first consult with other federal departments and agencies, provincial and territorial governments and seek their cooperation and support.

Parks Canada will then initiate discussions with local communities and affected user groups to seek their cooperation in conducting a feasibility study, to determine the best timing and process for their active participation, and how to incorporate the knowledge of individuals living and working in the area.

As a guide, the feasibility study should include recommendations on the conservation and management objectives of the area, its boundaries, a draft zoning plan as described in section 2.10 with a description of the purpose and objectives of each zone and the uses that will be permitted, including fishing. It should also identify specific issues of concern to local communities and affected user groups and, when possible, recommend how they could be addressed.

In proposing the boundaries of a potential national marine conservation area, every effort will be made to establish an area with a size and configuration that:

i) protects a wide diversity of marine ecosystems representative of the marine region;

ii) accommodates the habitat requirements of viable populations of marine species that are native to the marine region;

iii) does not fragment sensitive, highly diverse or productive marine communities;

iv) protects exceptional marine phenomena, and rare, threatened or endangered marine wildlife and plants;

v) includes important sites for ecological research and monitoring;

vi) offers opportunities for public understanding and enjoyment;

vii) results in minimum long-term disruption of the social and economic life in the surrounding region; and

viii) does not encompass permanent communities.

In addition, consideration may be given to including submerged cultural features or coastal/island sites which are significant in portraying human use of marine resources within a proposed national marine conservation area.

As part of the feasibility assessment, Parks Canada will cooperate with those federal departments or provincial/territorial governments responsible for assessing the renewable and nonrenewable natural resource potential of the proposed marine conservation area. Any associated field activities will take into account the natural and cultural qualities which recommend the area for marine conservation area status.

Boundary adjustments intended to improve the representation of an existing marine conservation area or its ecological integrity will be assessed according to the above policies.

1.4 National Marine Conservation Areas Agreements

National marine conservation areas will be established pursuant to agreements with the concerned provincial or territorial governments, federal departments and agencies, and with Aboriginal organizations, as appropriate.

The Crown in Right of Canada will own all land, including the sea or lake bed and its subsoil, within a national marine conservation area. Private lands and interests will be acquired by negotiated settlement, and term interests may be allowed to expire.

The agreement will describe the boundaries of the national marine conservation area, and will stipulate the role(s) of concerned government departments and agencies, any local communities and affected user groups, as well as interested non-government organizations and the public in the cooperative stewardship, planning and management of the marine conservation area.

Parks Canada will take a lead role in developing cooperative arrangements with all concerned parties for the complementary use and management of resources within a national marine conservation area.

Commercial exploration, extraction or development of nonrenewable resources and ocean dumping will not be permitted within a national marine conservation area.

Parks Canada and the provincial and federal governments will foster opportunities for local residents to find employment and business opportunities related to the operation of national marine conservation areas.

Where the resources of a marine conservation area are, or may be, significantly impacted by upstream pollution sources, Parks Canada will cooperate with government and non-government agencies at the local, provincial, territorial, federal and international levels in order to monitor water quality and endeavour to prevent or mitigate pollution effects.

Prior to the establishment of a marine conservation area, Parks Canada will prepare a report setting out the area's purpose and objectives, boundaries agreed to, zoning plan, and the various agreements made with other governments and federal departments for the cooperative management of the marine conservation area.

1.5 Establishing National Marine Conservation Areas in Legislation

Marine conservation areas will be formally established by the Parliament of Canada through amendment to the National Parks Act or in accordance with new legislation respecting the establishment of national marine conservation areas.

When new national marine conservation areas are established in conjunction with the settlement of land claims of Aboriginal peoples, the final boundaries as well as harvesting rights and involvement of Aboriginal peoples in planning and management will be proposed in legislation according to the terms of the land claim agreement. In the interim, the area may be set aside as a "national marine conservation areas reserve" under the Act and traditional hunting, fishing and other marine resource based activities by entitled Aboriginal peoples will continue.

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