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A healthy ocean is inextricably linked to humanity’s continued prosperity. Despite our interdependence on this shared resource, we continue to damage precious marine ecosystems across the globe. With the world’s longest shoreline, Canada is in a unique position to model strategies for ocean protection that also stimulate economic growth.

For World Ocean Day, it's important to celebrate and showcase world-leading conservation projects, like those happening in Canada, so we can strategically approach global ocean protection. The territory of Nunavut and many Inuit communities are taking a leadership role by investing in the protection of critical ocean areas in the Arctic.

Ocean conservation

When Canadians think of nature conservation, we often think of terrestrial areas, like carbon-rich wetlands and old-growth forests. But the ocean also stores a significant amount of carbon and is rich in biodiversity. The ocean is also a socio-economic powerhouse. Coastal areas generate 61 per cent of global GDP and the livelihoods of more than three billion people directly depend on the ocean. Despite this, less than eight per cent of the world’s ocean is protected and human actions continue to threaten marine ecosystems. It’s clear that we need to find novel ways to increase ocean protection while supporting coastal livelihoods.

Canada’s role in protecting the ocean

In 2022, Canada led the call for the international “30 by 30” target at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. Because of this, almost every country in the world has committed to conserving 30 per cent of land and ocean areas by 2030. This call to action reaffirms the necessity of protecting biodiversity and accounting for the full value of nature.

In a landmark step forward, provincial and territorial leaders have just agreed to collaborate with the federal government and Indigenous Peoples to achieve 30 by 30. Co-operation will be essential to meet our commitments, however, some regions are able to contribute more land and ocean areas than others.

The new approach: conservation as a catalyst for economic growth

Nunavut and many Inuit communities are already leading the charge by establishing over 40 million hectares of marine protected area and investing in the blue conservation economy of the Arctic.

For #WorldOceanDay, it's important to celebrate and showcase world-leading conservation projects, like those happening in Canada, write Christine Desrochers @SP_Inst & Michael2wigg #WorldOceansWeek #OceanConservation #OceanGovernance

A blue conservation economy is how coastal communities can generate wealth by using natural resources in a sustainable way. This includes industries and activities that benefit from ocean stewardship, such as fishing, eco-tourism and research.

By investing in blue conservation economies alongside marine protected areas, Canada’s ocean areas can play a transformative role in our future and be a source of economic wealth.

Arctic marine protection

Most of Canada’s shoreline is in the sensitive Arctic region, which is an ideal area for protection and investment in blue conservation economies. Arctic marine ecosystems provide critical habitat for key species and are the economic and cultural backbone of Inuit communities. Increased protections are needed in the face of growing interest in natural resource extraction and international shipping in the region. A single oil spill in the Arctic would be catastrophic for the environment and coastal communities, estimated at $7.9 billion in uninsured risk.

Inuit communities have long been stewards of the land and ocean. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association, in partnership with the Canadian and Nunavut governments, has recently contributed more than 50 per cent of Canada’s current marine protected areas.

  • The Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area spans almost 32 million hectares in the High Arctic Basin. As Arctic sea ice continues to decline, this area is expected to be the final habitat for ice-dependent species like seals and polar bears.

These two projects were made possible through the signing of an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, which commits to Inuit co-management and stewardship. This has created an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen partnerships and invest in the Arctic blue conservation economy.

Investments in Inuit-led blue conservation economies foster regional economic growth and quality employment opportunities. Communities can also benefit from improved health outcomes, community resilience and revitalization of local language, culture, and traditions.

Many communities are now seeing marine protection as a way to build their local economies, showing ocean protection is not a barrier to growth, but a catalyst. The Smart Prosperity Institute is excited to support communities, such as Taloyoak, in developing novel blue conservation economy strategies.

The blue way forward

To reach our 30 by 30 target, Canada must continue to invest in Indigenous stewardship. The blue conservation economy approach being spearheaded by Inuit communities in Nunavut is a lesson for coastal communities across Canada and the world. It demonstrates that ocean conservation can benefit both people and the planet.

Investing in the blue conservation economy is a triple-win for Canada because it allows us to protect the ocean, promote economic growth and foster reconciliation. This world-leading approach is an unparalleled opportunity for sustainable prosperity. Canada must continue to lead by example and invest in this economic driver.

Christine Desrochers is a research associate at the Smart Prosperity Institute. Before joining SPI, Christine worked for several years as an environmental engineer and sustainability consultant in Canada and Australia. She holds a BEng from the University of Guelph and a MEng from the University of Toronto. Christine now brings her expertise in water resources and green buildings to SPI. Her research interests focus on nature-based solutions, climate adaptation, nature conservation and an equitable low-carbon economy.

Michael Twigg is the program director of land use, Nature and Agriculture at the Smart Prosperity Institute, where he and his team are working to develop innovative strategies for advancing Canada’s nature economy. Michael’s work focuses on the intersection of conservation, food systems and community development as key drivers of economic growth and prosperity; research that has been applied in Ontario’s Greenbelt, in coastal communities across Nunavut, and in support of First Nations in British Columbia. He is a graduate of l’Institut d’études politique de Paris.

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Thanks. Indigenous coverage is good. But when I have to have a postmedia subscription to even hear that there's an Indigenous nation up the BC coast that is angry at the feds for shutting down salmon farms, it's hard to created CNO coverage of either Indigenous issues, OR environmental issues.

The two are in conflict, there, and you'd have to provide nuanced coverage instead of simple good-guy, bad-guy coverage. I'm sure you're up to it if you try.

I might guess that nationality doesn't guarantee being on the right side of all things climate and/or environment.