Our federal government has committed to protecting 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020, but much of this area will still be under threat from exploitation. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are only one tool for protecting oceans: instituting better fisheries management, reducing fossil fuel emissions, restoring upland habitat, and preventing pollution (including underwater noise pollution are further actions we need to take to save ocean habitat).

First Nations Initiatives

*Please note there are other First Nations conservation initiatives in Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest that are not covered here.

Coastal First Nations - Great Bear Initiative

This alliance of the Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation “promotes community self-sufficiency and sustainable economic development on BC’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii. Our communities are working together to build a strong, conservation-based economy that recognizes our Title and Rights , and protects our culture and ecosystems.” Read More about the work that CFN supports.

Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance

The Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance (CCIRA) is an alliance between the four Central Coast Nations: Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nations. Their numerous joint initiatives and programs include harmonized marine planning and implementation, research on rockfish populations, eulachon monitoring, and policy development to address the many marine resource issues affecting their territories. Watch Keepers of the Coast to learn more about CCIRA’s work.

Coastal Guardian Watchmen program

Initiated in 2005, this regional program is designed to uphold and enforce traditional and contemporary Indigenous laws passed down over countless generations, and to work together to monitor, protect and restore the cultural and natural resources of the coastal territories in the Great Bear and Haida Gwaii. Individual Nations monitor and steward their own territories and resources, and coordinate with other CFN Nations through annual learning exchanges, a standard training program and a collective monitoring system .

Read more about Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.


What Are MPAs?

Marine protected areas (MPAs) protect and restore wildlife, habitats, and culturally important areas along the coast—it’s like a park for the ocean. MPAs come in many types; the size and level of protection, including fishing restrictions, can vary from one area to the next.


"An MPA is any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment"

— International Union for the Conservation of Nature


Benefits of MPAs and MPA networks

MPAs can boost fish size, abundance and diversity, and increase the overall productivity and resilience of the protected area and beyond. They can help restore the ocean ecosystem, which improves the sustainability of commercial and recreational fishing outside its boundaries and enhances tourism.

When protecting an entire region isn’t feasible, a network of MPAs can provide greater benefits than an individual one. For example, protecting the spawning areas, larval sources, migration routes, and other habitats of a given fish species is better than protecting just one of those. MPA networks are generally designed to provide representation (protection for several habitat types within the region); replication (protecting several examples of a habitat type within a region); and connectivity (between protected areas for species that migrate). Replication means that if one area is wiped out by a pollution event or natural disaster, other similar habitats within the network will provide protection. Commercially fished species can benefit from these networks, improving their numbers outside of MPAs as well as inside.

Case studies from around the world show that the success of an MPA depends on its size, age, location, level of protection, enforcement, and community support. It also depends on the management of the lands, waters, and resources outside of the MPA, because in the ocean there is no hard boundary—everything is connected

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has established a set of categories of protected areas based on objectives and allowable activities, as well as guidelines for establishing and managing MPAs based on research on best practices from around the world. The government of Canada is currently considering adopting these into legislation governing our MPAs.

Want to learn more about MPAs?
Check out The 5 Ws of MPAs in Canada


MPA Success Stories

Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park

On the east coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula lies a small marine protected area that represents one of the most impressive successes in ocean conservation.

Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary

New Zealand’s first marine mammal sanctuary was created around Banks Peninsula in 1988, to protect the endangered Hector’s dolphins from bycatch in set nets.

No-Trawl Areas Around the Isle of Man

In the waters of the Irish Sea, around the Isle of Man, manx king scallops were unsustainably fished through bottom trawling for many years. ⁣Learn how a network of marine protected areas comprised of “fisheries closed” zones has helped king scallops become 5x more abundant than they were previously.⁣

What Successful MPAs Look Like

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Predominantly closed to all extractive activities.

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Respect First Nations treaties, title, rights, and governance.

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Have ecological integrity as their top priority.

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Follow globally-accepted standardsfor protected areas.

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Completely off limits to all harmful activities.



Marine Protected Areas in the North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii

There are currently 114 MPAs in the North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii, including parks, ecological reserves, heritage sites, and conservancies, as well as the proposed Scott Islands National Wildlife Area. These include Provincial Marine Parks, Provincial Conservancies, Ecological Reserves, Rockfish Conservation Areas, the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Areas, and Haida Heritage sites and conservancies. None of these areas are completely off-limits to extraction, and many of them have no dedicated enforcement. As well, shipping is not regulated under any Canadian MPA legislation.

Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA

Designated in 2017, the Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA protects four 9,000 year-old glass sponge reefs, the first living glass sponge reefs found in the world. At the time of their discovery in 1987, approximately half of the reef area had been unknowingly destroyed by fisheries that drag heavy gear along the bottom. Recognizing the importance of the reefs as fish habitat, the bottom trawling fishery voluntarily closed access to the reefs in 2001, but other potentially damaging fisheries continued. The 2,410 square-kilometer MPA now prohibits all bottom contact fisheries and other activities that could damage the reefs and the many species that live within them, and allows some fisheries and other activities in the waters above them. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) played a major role in the establishment of this MPA. Learn more.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site

Often referred to simply as Gwaii Haanas, is an archipelago of 138 islands on the southern end of Haida Gwaii. Protection of the land and water in the reserve has been in the works since the mid-1980s. Since 1993, the Council of the Haida Nation and the Federal Government have co-managed the land area of the park. The Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve was established in 2010, bringing Gwaii Haanas’ total area to nearly 5,000 square kilometers. The new management plan for the marine area will set aside nearly 50% of the reserve’s waters from commercial fishing, giving protection for globally-important seabird breeding habitat, at-risk species of whales, and many fish species.

Rockfish Conservation Areas

First Nations in the Great Bear and Haida Gwaii depend on access to rockfish and lingcod for their diets and for cultural sustenance. In fact, access to traditional food sources for Food, Social, and Ceremonial purposes is a constitutional right for indigenous people. Rockfish are long-lived (some can live to 120 years) that are vulnerable to overfishing because they are slow to begin breeding, and the larger, older females in the population (the prize sport fish) are actually the ones that produce more and stronger young. First Nations fishers on the Central Coast observed that rockfish have been getting harder and harder to find over the past 50 years, as pressure from commercial and recreational fishing has increased. Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages these fisheries but has not adequately monitored the impact of recreational or commercial fisheries on central coast rockfish. In 2013, The Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance launched a study of nearly 300 fishing sites. The study showed that indeed, large and old Quillback and Yelloweye rockfish were rare across the study area, but the further you travel from fishing lodges and other ports, the more there are. Yelloweye rockfish (a.k.a. Red snapper) are doing better in Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs), where only First Nations food, social, and ceremonial fisheries for rockfish are allowed. Other species may not feel the same benefits from RCAs because their habitat may not be well-represented within them.



Marine Planning

Much work has been done to establish integrated marine resource management for the Pacific North Coast and Haida Gwaii.

Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area

The Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area Plan(PNCIMA plan) was the first guiding document to outline integrated, ecosystem-based, adaptive management of marine activities and resources throughout the region. Two of the key priorities identified in the plan are the creation of governance arrangements to enable plan implementation, and MPA network planning.

Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast

The Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) was intended to fulfill both these priorities, but when the process began in 2011 the Federal Government refused to engage. The Province of B.C. and 18 First Nations forged ahead without Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and developed a groundbreaking foundation for collaborative governance and planning for MPAs. MaPP enables progress on marine management in a wide variety of areas, including developing a system of marine zoning, funding for Coastal Guardian Watchmen programs, and studies on shellfish aquaculture potential and climate change impacts. The establishment of a collaborative governance structure that includes Indigenous governments as equal partners may be globally unique.

Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA network

In 2016, the Government of Canada began to move forward with the 2005 Federal Marine Protected Areas Strategy with planning for major MPA networks in the Pacific, Scotian Shelf, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, honouring its long-standing international commitments to protect biodiversity. The Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA (NSB MPA) network is currently in the works for the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii. Planning for the NSB MPA network is currently being undertaken by the Federal Government, 17 First Nations, and the Province of B.C. The process is driven by these six goals:

  1. To protect and maintain marine biodiversity, ecological representation and special natural features.
  2. To contribute to the conservation and protection of fishery resources and their habitats.
  3. To maintain and facilitate opportunities for tourism and recreation.
  4. To contribute to social, community and economic certainty and stability.
  5. To conserve and protect traditional use, cultural heritage and archaeological resources.
  6. To provide opportunities for scientific research and awareness

Conservation Allies

Several environmental organizations have been involved in marine planning and conservation work in the Great Bear for many years: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, West Coast Environmental Law, David Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Foundation - Canada, Living Oceans Society, SeaLegacy, Dogwood Initiative, Ecotrust