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Healthy coasts and oceans

Long-term goal

Coasts and oceans support healthy, resilient and productive ecosystems

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Why is this issue important

Canada has unparalleled ocean resources and protecting our waters is critical to the lives and livelihoods of all Canadians.

Coasts and oceans are facing challenges from climate change, which is influencing rising sea levels, increasing water temperatures, and loss of marine habitat. Marine shipping, human use and development of our oceans are increasing, which poses environmental risks such as the potential for oil spills, underwater noise and invasive species. Furthermore, we need to continue to take action to ensure that Canadians benefit from healthy, resilient, sustainably managed and productive fisheries and ecosystems over the long term.

The introduction and spread of invasive alien species results in loss of biodiversity, leading to major economic costs. Climate change can make these impacts worse—for example, as colder waters in the Arctic and sub-Arctic become warmer, they become more receptive to potentially invasive alien species from more temperate areas.

Conserving coastal and marine areas helps address environmental challenges, and we are committed to establishing and managing marine protected areas. In doing so, we will recognize the role of Indigenous peoples in Canada and in the traditional use of coastal and marine areas.

Tallurutiup Imanga

Located in Nunavut, Tallurutiup Imanga is a large natural and cultural seascape that is one of the most significant ecological areas in the world. It provides important habitat for species such as the polar bear, bowhead whale, narwhal and beluga whale. For Inuit living in the region, it is a place rich in culture and wildlife.

In October 2018, the Government of Canada and the Qikitani Inuit Association reached an Agreement in Principle outlining key elements of the future Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area. Once established, Tallurutiup Imanga will be the largest protected area ever established in Canada at 109 000 square kilometres—about 1.9% of Canada's total marine area.

Marine spatial planning

Marine spatial planning is a process that brings together relevant authorities to better coordinate the use and management of marine spaces to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives. This process provides a collaborative venue to develop a marine spatial plan that helps guide where marine activities are best located and identify areas which need to be avoided or require special measures for conservation or protection.

Taking action on ocean plastics

Globally, it is estimated that about 8 million tonnes of plastic pollution enter the oceans every year from land and ships. Canada is playing a leading role in global action to address this urgent problem. Canada spearheaded the development of the Ocean Plastics Charter, which was first adopted in June 2018 by the leaders of Canada, France, Germany Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Canada is also:

  • working to address one of the deadliest forms of plastic pollution for marine animals—lost and abandoned fishing gear—as a signatory to the Global Ghost Gear Initiative
  • investing $65 million through the World Bank for an international fund to address plastic waste in developing countries
  • supporting the implementation of a global action plan to address marine plastic litter from ships, adopted by the International Maritime Organization
  • advancing policy and research to reduce plastic pollution through the G7, G20 and the United Nations and participates in the United Nations Clean Seas Campaign and Global Partnership on Marine Litter
  • investing $12 million in made-in-Canada innovative approaches and technologies that help stop the flow of plastics to the oceans—for example, the Innovative Solutions Canada program's plastics challenge sought proposals for economically viable and energy efficient ways to recycle fibreglass from vessel hulls and awarded funding to 2 Nova Scotia businesses for their innovative solutions to ghost gear

Canada in the world

Protecting coastal and marine areas supports the 2030 Agenda and its global Sustainable Development Goals—in particular SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation; SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production; SDG 14, Life Below Water; and SDG 17, Partnerships for the Goals. It also supports specific SDG targets, as well as other international agreements and initiatives.

Work under this goal supports progress toward the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada and the global conservation objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity—in particular, by supporting our commitments to conserve 10% of our coastal and marine area by 2020 and to manage fisheries sustainably.

For details on how this goal supports international action, see Annex 3.

Connections with other FSDS areas

Conserving coastal and marine areas relates to other areas covered by the FSDS, including climate change, lakes and rivers, biodiversity and sustainable food. For example:

  • taking action on climate change can help mitigate impacts on coastal and marine areas such as changing sea levels, ocean chemistry, temperature and marine life
  • species at risk rely on coastal and marine areas throughout their life cycle to recover and thrive
  • coastal and marine ecosystems capture and store carbon and contribute to climate resilience
  • freshwater ecosystems will benefit from ballast water regulations to reduce risks from aquatic invasive species
  • supporting water stewardship and preventing pollution helps reduce risks to fish and their habitat
  • managing risks from harmful substances helps prevent them from polluting coastal areas and oceans
  • investing in wastewater infrastructure helps prevent water pollution from undertreated wastewater

Our partners

Indigenous peoples, provinces, territories and stakeholders play an important role in coastal and ocean management. They work with us to manage fisheries sustainably; to establish, manage and monitor marine protected areas and develop marine protected area networks; to prevent and address marine pollution; and to carry out integrated oceans management and planning.

Participation of Indigenous peoples is critical to managing fisheries. Indigenous peoples participate in fisheries management in accordance with treaties and land claims agreements and in recognition of Aboriginal rights to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. We are working with the National Indigenous Fisheries Institute to review existing Indigenous programs to support participation of Indigenous peoples in developing and delivering programs related to the management of fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic resources, oceans and habitat. Provinces and territories play a role as well—they exercise delegated responsibilities related to sustainable fisheries, such as managing recreational fisheries.

Reconciliation is central to Canada's approach to conserving coasts and oceans. Indigenous peoples work with us to establish and manage marine protected areas and national marine conservation areas. The Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area, located in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Western Arctic and designated in 2016, was the first marine protected area with conservation objectives based solely on Indigenous Knowledge.

Industry has an important role in addressing marine pollution. Under our “polluter pays” approach, the ship owner is liable for the costs associated with responding to a spill they cause thereby encouraging them to implement measures to reduce the likelihood of a spill.

Canada is also working with countries around the world to protect oceans and address plastic pollution. For example, in November 2018 Canada co-hosted the first-ever global conference on the sustainable “blue economy” in Nairobi, Kenya. With participants from over 150 countries, the conference focused on creating economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable, ensuring healthy and productive waters, and building safe and resilient communities. Furthermore, in October 2018, Canada joined 57 countries in the first-ever Operation 30 Days at Sea to combat illegal marine pollution activity such as illegal discharges of oil and disposal of waste at sea.

Partners taking action - Wrecked, abandoned and hazardous vessels

As part of the Oceans Protection Plan, the Abandoned Boats Program provides financial support to communities to assess and remove smaller abandoned or wrecked vessels posing hazards in Canadian waters, and the Small Craft Harbours Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels Removal Program provides funding to remove wrecked or abandoned vessels from federal small craft harbours. As of March 1, 2019:

  • the Abandoned Boats Program has announced funding for 87 boat removal assessments, 44 boat removal and disposal projects, 5 education and awareness projects, and 3 research projects
  • under the Small Craft Harbours' Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels Removal Program, 23 vessels have been removed and disposed of from federal small craft harbours and funding has been awarded to support the future removal of an additional 11 vessels

Partners taking action - Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is playing a regional leadership role through its Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program, bringing together governments, industry, Indigenous representatives, scientists, and environmental and conservation organizations to coordinate and implement voluntary measures to reduce the cumulative effects of marine traffic on whales, including the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale. The ECHO program has led in the development and implementation of voluntary vessel slow-downs resulting in a better understanding of how vessel speed affects underwater noise. The collaborative format of the ECHO Program's advisory working groups and technical committees serves as a place for open and frank discussion and consideration of potential mitigation solutions to reduce threats to whales from commercial vessel traffic.

Partners taking action - HP closed-loop plastics program

Over 10 years ago, HP partnered with Montreal's Lavergne Group to develop an innovative closed loop process to make new HP cartridges from recycled cartridges, plastic bottles and clothing hangers. This process has used over 99 000 tonnes of recycled plastic and was used in more than 3.8 billion HP ink and toner cartridges through 2017. This has kept 784 million HP cartridges, an estimated 86 million apparel hangers and 4 billion postconsumer plastic bottles out of landfills. More recently, the partners have worked together to create printers made from recycled printers and other electronics.

Partners taking action - Industry action to eliminate plastic from landfills

In June 2018, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada announced new waste reduction targets:

  • an aspirational goal of 100% of plastics packaging being re-used, recycled, or recovered by 2040
  • an interim goal of 100% of plastics packaging being recyclable or recoverable by 2030

The new targets reflect priorities of the organizations' members, who represent the broad plastics value chain in Canada.

Partners taking action - UNESCO biosphere reserves

Many of Canada's UNESCO designated biosphere reserves include coastal and marine areas and facilitate multi-partner initiatives to conserve the health of these waters. From grassroots stewardship projects to collaborations with Indigenous peoples, universities, youth and governments, biosphere reserves create opportunities for organizations to work together to protect aquatic species at risk and increase the protection of marine and coastal areas.

Responsible minister/Key departments and agencies

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard/ Environment and Climate Change Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Parks Canada; Transport Canada

Canada's starting point

  • To measure our progress in conserving coasts and oceans, we track conserved coastal and marine area as a percentage of total marine territory. From 2015 to 2018, coastal and marine area conserved increased from approximately 0.9% to 7.9%.
  • To measure how well we are protecting fish stocks for future generations, we track the proportion of major fish stocks that are harvested at sustainable levels, as well as the abundance and health of those fish stocks. In 2017:
    • 96% of 179 major fish stocks were managed and harvested at levels considered to be sustainable, up from 90% in 2011
    • 35% of major fish stocks were classified as healthy, 14% were in the cautious zone, 10% were in the critical zone, and 41% could not be classified due to information gaps
  • To assist in the measurement of coastal ecosystem health, we track the quality of shellfish growing area. In 2017, 68% of Canada's shellfish growing area was classified as approved or conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting for human consumption. We also track the presence of eelgrass, a marine plant species that is sensitive to environmental change.
  • To measure how well we are protecting our coasts from oil pollution from ships, we track the number of vessels monitored using the Automatic Identification System, vessel overflights and the number of ship-source oil spills detected over 10 litres. In 2018, the National Aerial Surveillance Program monitored 371,826 vessels and detected 6 ship source spills over 10 litres.