Making Real Progress on Marine Protected Areas in Canada

Last week the Liber Ero Fellows were in Canada’s capital. While in Ottawa, a group of Liber Ero Fellows including Dr. Aerin Jacob, Dr. Kim Davies and Dr. Nathan Bennett made presentations to the All-Party Ocean Caucus on their research. Nathan Bennett (2015 Liber Ero Fellow, University of British Columbia) presented a policy brief titled “Making Real Progress on Marine Protected Areas in Canada“. The brief can be found here and the text of the policy brief follows below.


Liber Ero Fellows and Members of the All-Party Ocean Caucus, October 24, 2016, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (From left to right: MP Elizabeth May (Green), David Miller (WWF-Canada), MP Fin Donelly, Dr. Kim Davies (Dalhousie), MP Scott Simms, Dr. Nathan Bennett (UBC/UWash), Dr. Aerin Jacob (UVic), Dr. Sally Otto (UBC).

Making Real Progress on Marine Protected Areas in Canada

Creating effective and successful networks of marine protected areas in Canada requires attention to all elements of Aichi Target 11 and to international best practices for incorporating ecological, socio-economic, cultural and governance considerations.

Federal government ministerial mandate letters 2015, DFO: “Work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to increase the proportion of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected – to five percent by 2017, and ten percent by 2020 – supported by new investments in community consultation and science.”

Convention on Biological Diversity, Aichi Target 11: “By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.”


Ecologically significant areas in the Great Bear Sea. Photo credit: Ian McAllister/Pacificwild ( – Used with permission.

As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada is striving to achieve the ambitious goal of 10% coverage of coastal and marine areas in networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. Key points to ensure that MPA networks are effective and successful are summarized below:

  1. More than just area – Aichi Target 11 focuses on more than just the amount of area protected (i). Creating ecologically effective MPA networks also requires attention to: representation of all habitats, inclusion of unique and biologically significant areas, connectedness, and consideration of biodiversity and ecosystem service values (ii).
  2. Management effectiveness – Only 24% of protected areas are managed effectively globally (iii). Effective management requires adequate government funding, capacity and enforcement. Ongoing research programs are also needed to monitor and evaluate social and ecological outcomes and guide adaptive management (iv).
  3. Integrated ocean and coastal planning – The overall success and effectiveness of MPAs increases when integrated into a broader system of marine and coastal management that takes into account multiple stressors and promotes actions to mitigate the impacts of development (v).
  4. Socio-economic and cultural considerations – Aichi Target 11 requires that MPAs are “equitably managed” which requires that social, economic and cultural considerations are factored into planning and management. In particular, there is a need to understand and balance the social and economic impacts of MPAs for different stakeholders during network planning and to incorporate cultural considerations and Aboriginal peoples’ rights into management plans (vi).
  5. Good governance – Good governance during planning, implementation and management is a key to the success of conservationvii. This means that decision-making processes and co-management structures need to be inclusive, participatory and transparent and respectful of the preferential rights of Aboriginal peoples and right relationships with First Nations’ governments (vii).
  6. “Other effective area-based conservation measures” (OEACBM) – What counts as an OEABCM needs to be clearly defined in the spirit of the Aichi target and in alignment with all the elements listed above (viii). This means that managed areas that benefit only one species or habitat should not be considered equivalent to a marine protected area. Consideration should also be given to other governance models that effectively conserve biodiversity, including Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas and Tribal Parks (ix).

Currently, MPAs cover 1.1% of Canada’s oceans (x)

Getting from 1.1% (497,600km2) to the milestone of 10% is a significant challenge that will require collaboration between multiple levels of government and different jurisdictions. For example, MPAs fall under the authority of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks and Environment & Climate Change Canada. To facilitate the achievement of the targets the government is advised to build on past and ongoing marine planning process of provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments, such as the Marine Plan Partnership, First Nations Marine Planning, the PNCIMA process and the Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA planning process (xi)



Fishing boat on the Pacific Coast of Canada. Photo credit: Natalie Ban. Used with permission.

  • Ensure that all elements of Aichi Target 11 are taken into account when planning MPA networks in Canada.
  • Incorporate lessons from global experiences of creating MPAs related to effective management, good governance and integrated planning
  • Account for social, economic and cultural considerations in planning and management of MPAs.
  • Develop adequate co-management structures and decision-making processes that include First Nations as equal partners.
  • Support multi-jurisdictional collaboration and build on previous initiatives.
  • Ensure that MPA planning and management is guided by both natural and social science. Implement monitoring and evaluation to guide adaptive management.

Prepared by Dr. Nathan Bennett (University of British Columbia) and Dr. Natalie Ban (University of Victoria) with input from members of the OceanCanada Partnership ( Please contact us should you wish further information: and

(i) Spalding, M. et al. Building towards the marine conservation end-game: consolidating the role of MPAs in a future ocean. Aquatic Cons 26, 185–199 (2016).

(ii) Jessen, S. et al. Science Based Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas and Marine Protected Area Networks in Canada. 58 (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, 2011).

(iii) Leverington, F. & et al. Management effectiveness evaluation in protected areas – a global study (2nd ed). (U of Queensland, 2010).

(iv) Pomeroy, R. S., Parks, J. E. & Watson, L. M. How is your MPA doing?: A guidebook of natural and social indicators for evaluating marine protected area management effectiveness. (IUCN, 2004).

(v) Nowlan, L. Brave New Wave: Marine Spatial Planning & Ocean Regulation on Canada’s Pacific. J. of Env Law Prac 29, 151–198 (2016).

(vi) Rodríguez-Rodríguez, D., Rees, S. E., Rodwell, L. D. & Attrill, M. J. IMPASEA: A methodological framework to monitor and assess the socioeconomic effects of marine protected areas. Env Sci Pol 54, 44–51 (2015); Ban, N. C. et al. A social–ecological approach to conservation planning: embedding social considerations. Front Ecol Env 11, 194–202 (2013).

(vii) Bennett, N. J. & Dearden, P. From measuring outcomes to providing inputs: Governance, management, and local development for more effective marine protected areas. Mar Poli 50, 96–110 (2014).; Burt, J.M., et al. 2015. Marine Protected Area Network Design Features that Support Resilient Human-Ocean Systems. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada.

(viii) Mackinnon, D. et al. 2015. Canada and Aichi Biodiversity Target 11: understanding ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ in the context of the broader target. Biodiversity and Conservation 24:3559-3581; DFO. Guidance on identifying ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ in Canadian coastal and marine waters. (DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, 2016).

(xi) See:;; Wilson, P., McDermott, L., Johnston, N. & Hamilton, M. An Analysis of Intenational Law, National Legislation, Judgements, and Institutions as they Interrelate with Territories and Areas Conserved by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities – Report No 8. Canada. (Natural Justice, 2012).

(x) Data:; Visualization:


In Response to Ontario’s Proposed Pollinator Action Plan

By Sheila R. Colla, Liber Ero Fellow

IMG_1234Photo: S. Colla

It’s an exciting and scary time to be a conservation biologist specializing in pollinators living in Ontario. The province is accepting comments on their pollinator action plan until March 7th. When this was proposed early on, I was optimistic. However, due to the misinterpretation (or disregard) of science and the intense lobbying of industry, there is potential that this plan can do more harm to pollinator populations than good.

Main Critiques:

  • The plan lacks clear timelines, goals, and targets, and is vague on what it “might” do and how it will get things done.
  • The plan also focusses intensely on the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) and pesticide use as the main threat to pollinators, implying that by dealing with that, we will be supporting Ontario’s pollinator health as a whole. But we would never conserve Lake Ontario’s fish populations by throwing in a bunch of Asian Carps nor save woodland songbirds by bringing in a bunch of pigeons. We would also never attribute the declines of 1000s of wild species to a single threat. Why is it so different when we are talking about bees?
  • One of the most glaring problems with the plan is that the recommendations are not made based on best available science. It also completely ignores a large body of relevant scientific literature, much of which has been carried out in Ontario. A good first step here (and really for any complex environmental issue) would be to form an independent scientific advisory group to propose recommendations based on research. These could then be made available for public and stakeholder consultation. Ontario has numerous scientists in various universities and ENGOs who have worked on pollinator conservation issues for years and thus have the required expertise. However, these researchers (like myself) were invited to comment on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry (EBR) and at stakeholder meetings. Thus, they are effectively being treated as single voices among many with competing interests and varying levels of understanding.

IMG_5784Photo: S. Colla

OK, let’s break down the Ontario pollinator situation. The province is trying to target the issue of pollinator conservation with a single plan. However, what I see are three completely separate issues, each requiring their own recommendations, plans, and governance. These simply cannot be tackled by the same plan and, most importantly, the measures which will benefit one may be detrimental to another. There is good scientific understanding of each issue and with the right people at the table, evidence-based recommendations can be made for each. But currently, one ministry has been given the lead on the province’s single plan, which is problematic for reasons I allude to below.

Issue #1. Halting the extinction of pollinators

There are numerous pollinators deemed to be at risk of extinction (as defined by the IUCN Red List) in Ontario. The decline of pollinator species has also been documented globally and has led to increased concern. The causes of these declines are complex and, in many cases, species-specific. For example, the Karner Blue butterfly has ecological requirements associated with native grasslands, such as the specialization of its larva on Blue Lupine. The main threat to this species is habitat loss (i.e., Oak Savanna). Another example is the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, which was a common species throughout much of southern Ontario as recently as the 1990s but hasn’t been seen since 2009. It is a habitat and forage generalist. Threats to this species are thought to be a combination of pathogen spillover from managed bees and climate change.

Conserving species at risk of extinction requires ongoing monitoring and tailored conservation management based on knowledge of the species’ ecological needs and specific threats. Also, using the precautionary principle, remaining populations of these declining species need to be protected from additional stressors such as resource competition with non-native species (yes, this includes honey bees), exposure to pesticides or disease spillover, and habitat loss. The protection of species deemed to be at risk of extinction falls under the jurisdiction of the MNRF.

Issue #2. Maintaining pollinator biodiversity

Numerous scholars and scientific research have supported that the best way to manage a natural resource or ecosystem service is to maintain as much natural variation as possible. This is especially important for increasing resilience under climate change. We can’t predict which species will suffer or do well, so let’s keep as many around as possible instead of putting our eggs in one basket. Study after study shows that agricultural pollination of many crops benefits from a diverse pollinator community. Keeping a diverse pollinator community, which consists of both rare and common native species, thus increases the sustainability of our natural ecosystems and agricultural production. Since the protection of this ecosystem service is crucial to the protection of our environment, this issue should fall under the jurisdiction of the MOECC.

To promote pollinator diversity, we should be protecting and creating high quality pollinator habitat wherever possible. This includes in urban areas, agricultural lands, and natural areas. Habitat should have a variety of native wildflowers, trees, and shrubs which produce forage throughout the growing season and incorporate nesting and overwintering sites which benefit many species (e.g., exposed sandy soils for ground-nesting bees). To whatever extent possible, these areas should only be exposed to pesticides, non-native animals, and non-native plants when there is no alternative.

Issue #3. Supporting the European Honey Bee industry

That’s correct, industry. As in, people make money by keeping these animals and selling their honey and/or pollination services. There have been numerous examples of the industry promoting the expansion of their businesses unethically as environmental initiatives. That being said, the industry’s bottom line is also vulnerable to a variety of stressors. Insecticides are used in agricultural areas to target crop pests, but honey bees are insects too and are harmed in the process. Keeping any animal in higher than natural densities, as we do with livestock and fisheries, results in disease outbreaks and proliferation. Honey bees have experienced this with numerous parasites, including the Varroa mite. In Ontario, climate change has been cited as a threat to honey bees. I find this somewhat perplexing, as honey bees have evolved to deal not with harsh winters but with Mediterranean and arid climates instead. In any case, overwintering losses are another pressure on the industry. While all of these threats do affect a beekeeper’s bottom line, we are not in danger of the European Honey Bee going extinct. When colonies don’t do well, beekeepers have the option of importing queens or colonies from other countries. For more informaton on the industry, see here. Mitigating issues associated with honey bee losses falls under the jurisdiction of OMAFRA.

green beePhoto: S. Colla

I can only hope that before Ontario’s pollinator action plan is finalized, the province does what is right and strengthens the plan and its governance structure to effectively deal with EACH of these three pollinator issues separately, using the best available scientific evidence and expertise.

In the words of Aldo Leopold, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Reflections on Galiano 2015 Liber Ero retreat



By Sheila Colla

This past week, the Liber Ero fellows attended a week-long retreat on Galiano Island, British Columbia. We have two retreats a year and it is always such a pleasure to get together to talk about our research, flesh out collaborations, and socialize. Each retreat also has a training component. Past themes have included Leadership, Science Communication, and Working with Policymakers. This week, we were honoured to have the prominent environmental lawyer David Boyd go through Canadian and US legislation as it pertains to conservation. He pointed out some flaws in the legislation and explained why inaction can occur. He also had some success stories, where legal action has resulted in conservation action.

One of his major issues with Canadian law is that while we have a variety of rights laid out in the constitution, Canadians do not currently have the right to a healthy environment. This includes clean air, water, fertile soil, and intact ecosystems to maintain these processes for future generations. In fact, there are communities and towns that lack access to these basic components, and wildlife species on the brink of extinction. For a country that values its biodiversity, natural resources, and wild spaces, this is truly astonishing. We ended our legal training feeling both optimistic about our ability to catalyze change and disappointed that our country does not have a stronger legal framework for environmental protection.