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Ottawa moves to expand marine protections off Atlantic coast

A Blue whale dives off the Atlantic coast.

Stephanie Carole Pieddesaux/Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

It's a good-news day for blue whales, Atlantic wolffish and leatherback turtles as three underwater areas off Canada's Atlantic shores are on track to receive special protection.

Ottawa's new Fisheries Minister, Keith Ashfield, announced that three areas of vulnerable underwater regions will be studied as potential protected areas.

The areas are St. Anns Bank, in eastern Nova Scotia, and two areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence: American Bank and Shediac Valley. Scheduled to coincide with World Oceans Day, the announcement included a Pacific coral and sponge strategy aimed at conserving key coral areas.

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Canada already has eight marine protected areas under the Oceans Act. Four others are already in the preliminary consultation process that will now apply to these three Atlantic areas, meaning Canada could soon have 15 protected areas.

"We're going to consult with governments, we're going to consult with first nations, we consult with industry, the general public," Mr. Ashfield said in an interview. "It can take anywhere from one to five years before you actually move into a marine protected area. It's all based on a very extensive consultation process that would identify the boundaries of the marine protected area and a number of other things."

The announcements were praised by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which advocates for further protection of marine areas.

"We're really pleased to see the three new sites," said Sabine Jessen, national manager of the society's oceans program. However, Ms. Jessen said Canada is not among the world leaders in this area. She noted that countries like Australia have protected 14 per cent of their ocean territory, whereas Canada is at about 1 per cent.

"We have a long way to go," she said.

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