National Marine Conservation Areas

National marine conservation areas (NMCAs) are protected marine areas administered by Parks Canada. They are established to protect and conserve representative marine areas for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada and the world. NMCAs are managed for ecologically sustainable use overall and also contain highly protected zones. They include the seabed, subsoil and overlying water column, and may encompass islands and coastal lands.

The goal of the NMCA system is to protect examples of Canada's major marine ecosystems. Like NATIONAL PARKS and national HISTORIC SITES, NMCAs are guided by a national system plan. To this end, Parks Canada has identified 29 of these "marine natural regions" in our waters: 5 in the Pacific Ocean, 9 in the Arctic Ocean, 10 in the Atlantic Ocean and 5 in the GREAT LAKES.

Unlike the preservation orientation that is typical of the national parks, NMCAs are managed for the protection and conservation of marine ECOSYSTEMS. Thus sustainable uses, such as fishing and shipping, are permitted, with due regard for ecological limits. Ocean dumping, undersea mining, and oil and natural gas exploration and development are prohibited within the boundaries of an NMCA.

The NMCA program began in 1986 with the approval of the National Marine Parks Policy. A revised National Marine Conservation Areas Policy was released in 1994 and the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act became law in 2002. FATHOM FIVE NATIONAL MARINE PARK in Georgian Bay, Ontario, was established in 1987, followed by SAGUENAY-ST LAWRENCE MARINE PARK in Québec in 1998. Canada and Ontario signed an agreement to establish LAKE SUPERIOR NATIONAL MARINE CONSERVATION AREA in 2007. There are currently 4 proposed NMCAs at various stages of the establishment process: Gwaii Haanas and Southern Strait of Georgia in BC; ÎLES DE LA MADELEINE in Québec; and LANCASTER SOUND in Nunavut.

The NMCA's program is one of 3 federal marine-protected-area programs. The others are marine protected areas established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada under the Oceans Act primarily to protect and conserve specific or threatened marine resources and habitats; and marine wildlife areas established by Environment Canada under the Canada Wildlife Act primarily to protect critical SEABIRD habitats.

There are a number of challenges to the establishment of NMCAs (and other marine protected areas). Among them are the general lack of awareness and understanding about marine ecosystems and the need to protect them; the complexity of working with the multiple players (regional, provincial, national and international) involved in the administration of the marine environment; and the struggle to balance economic considerations and CONSERVATION needs.