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One of Canada’s priorities for conservation has to be protecting the ecosystems that people, and especially vulnerable communities, rely on.OCEANS NORTH

On our blue planet, the ocean is our life support system. It regulates the climate, provides food for billions of people and holds important genetic resources.

“We need to work together across the globe to protect the ocean and ensure it continues to deliver all these services,” says marine ecologist Anna Metaxas, professor in the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University. “We have to come up with a plan that is global, equitable and sustainable – and that addresses issues like biodiversity loss and climate change.”

While Canada has the ability and capacity to take a leadership role in ocean protection, “we need a strong strategy with buy-in across society,” proposes Dr. Metaxas. “We need a clear vision for what we’re trying to achieve as a country and for how we’re planning to achieve it.”

A long-term vision, which can provide much-needed consistency across priorities, decisions and approaches, can also benefit from relevant legal frameworks, says Kristina Gjerde, a lawyer and senior high seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature Global Marine and Polar Program.

However, current legal regimes for the “conservation of marine ecosystems and ensuring their sustainable use are very weak,” she says. “The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea will be 40 years old this December, and climate change and biodiversity loss were not priorities at its inception.”

" And crucially for Canada, a leader in international assistance efforts, we need to find the resources to ensure that all nations are able to participate fully and equitably.

Kristina Gjerde
Lawyer and senior high seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature Global Marine and Polar Program

Among the efforts to update legal structures are “negotiations for the new UN treaty on marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, which many hope will be finalized this summer. This agreement is the focus of the High Ambition Coalition’s commitment to fast track an ambitious agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions,” says Dr. Gjerde. “Canada has already recognized that the Oceans Act, Canada’s marine protection law, needs to be updated with special attention to climate resilience and sustainability imperatives. It is time to do the same for international waters.”

This will inform how we conduct and incorporate environmental impact assessments, and how we design marine protected areas, she says. “We also need to use other creative area-based management tools to protect places outside marine protected areas. And crucially for Canada, a leader in international assistance efforts, we need to find the resources to ensure that all nations are able to participate fully and equitably.”

The 30-by-30 goal

Canada stepped up efforts and “met the goal of protecting 10 per cent of our ocean by 2020,” says Dr. Metaxas. “The next target, conserving 30 per cent by 2030, will require a collaborative strategy for meeting conservation objectives while also protecting people’s livelihoods. For these efforts to be successful, we need support from communities and industry, and these key relationships have to be established at the outset. An honest and open discourse is also essential for working with Indigenous communities.”

" We need to work together across the globe to protect the ocean.

Anna Metaxas
Professor in the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University

Public engagement can also help with the question of which ecosystems to protect, suggests Dr. Metaxas. “While one approach is to protect the most pristine environments, such as deep offshore waters, another favours focusing on the most vulnerable areas; for example, the Arctic. A third idea is to protect and restore important ecosystems that have lost their functioning because of pressures like coastal development and habitat loss.”

There is yet another factor to consider in this complex equation, and that is equity, she says. “On a global scale, people are losing the resources they need to survive. They lose their fish, their reefs, their kelp beds. Our priorities for conservation have to include protecting the ecosystems that people, and especially vulnerable communities, rely on.”

Knowledge and technology transfer

What Canada can bring to the table are “the amazing tools, technologies and scientific findings that are being created here,” says Dr. Gjerde. “They can help further our understanding of an ecosystem as well as the human uses and values associated with it, which can then inform management and conservation measures.”

For collectively advancing common goals across borders, “Canada needs to work with other governments,” she suggests. “The G7 is adopting a relatively ambitious platform, but we also need to reach out to the G77 to offer support such as financial commitments, innovation funds or technologies.”

Dr. Metaxas agrees. “Now is the time to invest in growing our knowledge so we can more wisely manage our ocean and biodiversity at home and abroad,” she says. “Canada has a global responsibility to act as a steward for the ocean through sharing capacity, resources and knowledge.”

Canada's Ocean super year:

The next 12 months are expected to result in unprecedented international action for the ocean.

June 27 – July 1, 2022: United Nations Ocean Conference

August 15 – 26, 2022: 5th Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

Fall 2022: 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity

November 2022: 27th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change

February 3 – 9, 2023: 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (Vancouver, Canada)


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