From the WWF-Canada office in Halifax, I can see the harbour opening up into the Atlantic Ocean. Every day it’s a different view: blue and inviting, grey and angry, shrouded under fog or heaving with whitecaps. And from that harbour I can see original inhabitants such as seals and starfish and kelp, and watch the coming and going of everything from Navy frigates to sail boats, kayaks to container ships. Everything at sea seems serene.
But it’s not.
Climate change threatens ecosystems that have been in balance for thousands of years. Extreme weather puts habitats at risk – including human ones. We think of Canada as a land of endless pristine shorelines, but the reality is that only one per cent of our ocean is protected.
We’ve committed to doing better: In 2010, Canada agreed to reach 10 per cent marine protection by 2020. The new federal government has taken a deep breath and plunged in, pledging to make that happen.
This is a thrilling opportunity. But how will we do it?
It currently takes seven to 10 years to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA), which means we’d blow past the 2020 deadline, even if we started yesterday. Speeding up the process is necessary, but so is ensuring that proper consultation takes place. We must be guided by the best research available. We must devise solutions that work for marine species, as well as the people who live and work alongside them. And we need to guarantee that current and future MPAs are managed to a high standard.
We have a unique moment, right now, to translate political will into action. The government has made the commitment. By working with communities and stakeholders, we can implement innovative solutions – protecting five per cent of our oceans by next year and 10 per cent in four years can and will become a reality.
But while we work to protect that 10 per cent, what about the other 90 per cent? What about shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, and oil and gas exploitation in those spaces? How can we use the power of the ocean to generate habitat-friendly renewable energy from tidal power and wind? Can we plan responsibly, so an offshore windfarm doesn’t interfere with a shipping lane or a glass sponge reef? How do we help communities impacted by climate change to prepare and adapt, especially those in the North? How will we ensure Indigenous rights are respected?
It’s easy to raise questions, and harder to answer them. The good news? The answers exist. And so do the solutions. WWF-Canada is thrilled to convene Canada’s Ocean Summit on June 8, bringing together the brightest oceans minds in government, industry, Indigenous governments and civil society, for a one-day, solutions-oriented Summit. If we get this right, World Oceans Day 2016 could mark a turning point in the way Canada manages its precious oceans.
Megan Leslie is a Senior Consultant on National Ocean Governance at WWF-Canada