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SDG 14: Life below water

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The environmental perspective

Recognizing that Canada's coasts and oceans are facing pressures, the focus of this chapter is on conserving and protecting Canada's oceans. This focus directly supports SDG Global Indicator Framework targets 14.1: By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution; 14.2: By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans; 14.4: By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics, and 14.5: By 2020, conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information.

Climate change is increasing water levels and temperatures—and the loss of marine habitat. With rising sea levels, ocean acidification and thinning sea ice, life is becoming more vulnerable in many coastal, northern and Indigenous communities.

Other issues affecting our oceans include increased physical and noise disturbances from marine shipping, human use and development, pollution from plastics, oil spills and other contaminants, underwater noise and the spread of invasive alien species. Growing pressure on fish stocks also poses current and future challenges for fisheries management.

Oceans are not only home to an immense web of marine life, they also generate half of the oxygen we breathe, act as thermostats to regulate the Earth's temperature, and support most of our planet's biodiversity. Dependence on ocean resources and services will increase as populations grow. Coastal regions, in particular, are the most populated areas and are under increasing pressure from activities such as excessive fishing, marine shipping, and expansion of coastal cities.

As plastics have become part of everyday lives around the world, managing their life cycle becomes critical. Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastic pollution enter the oceans from land, globally. It is found on shorelines, in the water, and even in wildlife. Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, also known as ghost gear, are major contributors to the plastic debris problem. Recent studies indicate that ghost gear may make up to 70% of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight.

Canada is an ocean-rich country, with the world's longest coastline linking 3 different oceans—Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific. Canada's oceans are home to many species of marine life, including many at-risk species such as 42 distinct populations of whales. These whales and other marine species at risk are vital to marine ecosystems, and central to ecotourism in coastal communities. They include iconic but endangered species such as the Southern Resident killer whale, North Atlantic right whale and St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga.

Conserving coastal and marine areas helps address these environmental challenges, as do actions Canadians are taking to ensure healthy, resilient, sustainably managed and productive fisheries and ecosystems over the long term. As of 2018, Canada's “blue economy” accounted for approximately $36.1 billion annually in gross domestic product and close to 300,000 jobs.

Where the Government of Canada is going

Mandate letters released in December 2021 outline the Government of Canada's direction and policy priorities. Selected commitments related to Sustainable Development Goal 14 are listed below.

  • Implement the Pacific Salmon Strategy and make new investments and develop a conservation strategy to restore and rebuild wild Atlantic salmon populations and their habitats (Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard).
  • Continue to protect and restore our oceans and coasts by:
    • Renewing and expanding the Coastal Restoration Fund to restore aquatic habitats (Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard);
    • Expanding the Ghost Gear Program to continue efforts by fishers and others to clean up lost and abandoned fishing gear and ocean plastics (Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard);
    • Launching the next phase of the Oceans Protection Plan to continue efforts to deliver world-leading marine safety systems, increase protection for marine species and ecosystems and create stronger partnerships with Indigenous and other coastal communities, while strengthening marine research and science (Minister of Transport; Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard); and
    • Supporting community shoreline and oceans plastic cleanup efforts (Minister of Environment and Climate Change).
  • Modernize the Oceans Act to explicitly consider climate change impacts on marine ecosystems and species in regional ocean management, ensuring the Act provides for measurable progress indicators and objectives, and create a national, interdisciplinary working group focused on climate-resilient ocean conservation planning (Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard).
  • Build on the Ocean Plastics Charter by working with leading countries on the development of a new global agreement on plastics (Minister of Environment and Climate Change).

How the Government of Canada contributes

Protecting Canada's oceans and marine ecosystems from the threats of pollution, climate change and overfishing is critical to their long-term health. For the Government of Canada, one of the most important initiatives is the establishment of marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, including marine refuges. Marine protected areas are defined geographical spaces in the water that are dedicated and managed in an effort to conserve and protect unique areas, ecologically significant species and their habitats, and representative marine environments.

The Government of Canada has adopted Marine Spatial Planning as the way forward in integrated ocean planning and management to address threats to marine ecosystems. By working with provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners in a collaborative and transparent way, Marine Spatial Planning supports the protection of healthy marine ecosystems while fostering sustainable economic growth.

The Fisheries Act provides the legislative basis for the sustainable management of fisheries in Canada. Modernized in 2019, the Fisheries Act now provides stronger protections and modern safeguards for fish and their habitat. The Sustainable Fisheries Framework also supports sustainable fisheries, establishing a precautionary approach to fisheries management. The Government of Canada has also made important investments for protecting the biodiversity of marine species, including the Oceans Protection Plan and the Whales Initiative. These initiatives support the recovery and protection of marine species, including endangered whales, from anthropogenic threats such as physical and acoustic disturbances, lack of prey, and contaminants. Through the Oceans Protection Plan, the Government of Canada has improved the marine safety system, and preserved and restored marine ecosystems through collaboration with Indigenous and coastal communities.

The Government of Canada is developing a forward-looking Blue Economy Strategy. It seeks to grow Canada's ocean and freshwater economy, and support the long-term sustainable growth of Canada's fish and seafood sector. It will ensure Canada is positioned to succeed in the fast-growing global ocean sectors of the blue economy and advance reconciliation, conservation and climate objectives.

Reducing plastic waste, marine litter and plastic pollution is a priority for the Government of Canada. Canada plays an active role in international efforts to address marine plastic pollution, including the Ocean Plastics Charter and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. The Government of Canada has committed to promote Canadian technologies for reducing ocean plastics. Canada has become a global leader with the first funding program in the world dedicated to the reduction of ghost gear. The Ghost Gear Program was launched in 2020, and has supported 49 projects domestically and internationally working to reduce ghost gear.

Canada is engaged in efforts to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and ensure the sustainable management of shared fish stocks in the high seas, through active participation in policy development and compliance and enforcement activities at 7 regional fisheries management organizations. Canada established itself as a leader through its implementation of the 2018 G7 Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, committing nearly $12 million to build capacity worldwide to combat IUU fishing by developing new surveillance technologies and improving information and intelligence sharing, particularly with vulnerable developing states through initaitives such as the Dark Vessel Detection project.

At the COP 26 climate summit in 2021, Canada committed an extra $9 million in support for the global Ocean Risk and Resilience Alliance to support work in helping developing island nations and coastal countries face the challenges of climate change and another $6 million for the Global Fund for Coral Reefs to support coral reef conservation efforts.

Indigenous peoples and marine protection

Indigenous peoples in Canada have strong historical and cultural ties to Canada's coasts and oceans. They also exercise fisheries-related Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and have co-management roles, as part of the nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown and government-to-government basis relationship. Given their unique knowledge of and relationship to their environment, Indigenous peoples work with the Government of Canada to establish and manage marine protected areas.

On August 1 2019, Tuvaijuittuq, meaning “the place where ice never melts,” became the first Oceans Act marine protected area established via Ministerial Order under the Oceans Act. It provides up to 5 years of protection to over 300,000 square kilometres of Arctic water off the coast of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Tuvaijuittuq is a testament to a successful collaboration between the Government of Canada, the Government of Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. Future assessment of the region to support longer-term protection will include science and traditional and local knowledge such as Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, a source of information passed down from generation to generation.

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2022-2026 FSDS

Draft Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2022-2026