Canada is promising to establish 10 new federal marine protected areas as IMPAC5, a global summit on ocean conservation, kicks off Friday in Vancouver.

The goal is critical to the federal government’s 30x30 pledge to protect 30 per cent of Canada’s waters and lands by 2030 in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, said federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.

“Protecting marine ecosystems in Canada is a critical nature-based solution to the dual challenge of biodiversity loss and climate change,” Guilbeault, who is also responsible for Parks Canada, said in a statement Friday.

The minister also unveiled a new policy blueprint enshrining collaboration and stewardship with Indigenous Peoples in all existing and future national marine conservation areas.

The policy honours Indigenous Peoples’ role as stewards of their traditional lands and their use and connections to the land, waters and ice in Canada for millennia, while prioritizing the protection of marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

“It also delivers nature conservation that lives up to our commitment for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples,” said Guibeault, noting traditional land uses will be protected in conservation areas.

Work is well underway for seven of Parks Canada’s proposed marine protected areas in the Southern Strait of Georgia, the Central Coast of British Columbia, the northern coast of Labrador, along James and Hudson bays and in the Magdalen Islands. Three more conservation areas will be determined in the future, according to the ministry.

First Nations anticipate federal announcements at IMPAC5 around an Indigenous-led effort to create a vast network of marine protected areas along the B.C. coast. Led by 15 nations, B.C. and Canada, the proposed Great Bear Sea MPA network will protect the rich biodiversity of the central coast and iconic species like salmon, herring, eulachon and others while ensuring a range of uses and activities important to coastal communities.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Joyce Murray celebrated the new federal policy at the launch of IMPAC5, where she stressed how vital it was to protect oceans in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and combat climate change.

Canada is promising to establish 10 new Indigenous-led federal marine protected areas as IMPAC5, a global summit on ocean conservation, kicks off Friday in Vancouver. 

The largest ecosystem on the planet, the ocean produces 50 per cent of the planet’s oxygen, mitigates global warming and regulates the climate and weather patterns. It also sinks nearly a third of carbon dioxide produced by humans.

“Oceans are as crucial to our survival as the air we breathe, and if we truly want to protect our planet, we must protect the oceans,” Murray said. “And we can’t do this without Indigenous Peoples.”

IMPAC5 is the first chance to set the course for a global network of marine protected areas worldwide after international leaders adopted the 30x30 pledge at the United Nations biodiversity conference (COP15) in Montreal in December.

Despite the challenges oceans face from warming water, biodiversity loss and pollution, there is cause for optimism, Murray said.

Less than one per cent of Canada’s coastal areas were protected, but over the last eight years, that number has grown to 14 per cent and the federal government is on track to meet its targets in 2025 and beyond, she said.

The more than 3,000 scientists, Indigenous knowledge holders, scientists, policy experts and young professionals attending the summit from across the globe represent the best and brightest pushing the envelope on ocean conservation, she added.

“IMPAC5 can help us truly put marine conservation front and centre on the global agenda and ensure oceans are firmly anchored in all future climate negotiations.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer