By Hameet Singh and Rachel Goldstein

Hameet Singh and Rachel Goldstein are part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

MPA Technical Report by Rachel Goldstein and Hameet Singh.
Click to read the full report.

The purpose of MPAs is to protect marine and coastal ecosystems. The result of protecting these ecosystems is inherently beneficial to humans due to the positive effect MPAs have on ecosystem services (1). At this point in time, we have polluted the ocean, overfished, dredged, and generally mismanaged the world’s greatest natural resource. Sea surface temperatures are rising, species are dying or else being inadvertently introduced where they do not belong (2). Without the ecosystem services offered by marine and coastal environments, the world’s economy will suffer (3). Without mangroves to prevent erosion, people’s homes are being swallowed by the sea (4). Without coral reefs, we’re losing one of the greatest habitats for marine life that is the sole livelihood for many coastal communities around the globe (5). Without coastal wetlands and healthy marine flora, carbon sequestration will diminish (6). We need MPAs to reverse or prevent further damage to coastal and marine environments. Protecting 10% of the earth’s marine environment is not enough to reverse the current state of disaster, but it is a start.

Tourism and Fisheries

Human-wildlife coexistence within MPAs primarily focuses on tourism, extracting natural resources, and stakeholder relationships. In 2018 the output value of the commercial fishing industry in Canada was 3.7 billion CAD (7). Marine tourism in British Columbia alone is worth 3.8 billion CAD annually (8). Over 74,000 Canadians make their living from fishing or fishing-related activities (7). It follows that healthy marine environments are vital to the success of the Canadian economy. A recent study of marine ecotourism on the Pacific coast of Canada determined that just 18% of the total economic value of marine tourism that took place in the area was within MPAs (9). The same study found a positive link between marine tourism and areas of high biodiversity, demonstrating that healthy and intact ecosystems are a key attractant in marine tourism (9).

Figure 1: Whale watching off the coast of Tadoussac, QU. Credit: Hans Bernhard

Furthermore, introducing marine ecotourism to coastal communities often has the benefit of boosting local economy and creating jobs (10). The added benefit of MPAs to ensure sustainable ecotourism has positive repercussions on local communities, including changing attitudes towards marine life. People who may not have otherwise taken an interest in marine conservation find that it is now in their best interest to prioritize conservation (10). 

Though it may seem counterintuitive, restricting fishing activities in MPAs can in fact boost the success of fisheries (11). Poorly managed and overfished fisheries benefit from having MPAs in close proximity, and can they often serve as a substitute for fishery reforms (1). MPAs provide a habitat for fish populations to rebound and thrive, which eventually leads to a spillover effect into the surrounding areas (1). The spillover effect occurs when there is spillover of larvae and adult fish into areas surrounding MPAs, increasing fishing yield and surrounding ecosystem health (1). According to a recent study, adding 5% more MPA coverage of the global ocean will generate 87% of the maximum possible spillover benefit from extra protection and produce 9 million metric tons of extra food per year (1). 

Figure 2: Blue shark, Atlantic Canada. Blue shark populations are in decline due to long line fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia. Credit: Nick Hawkins.

Protecting an additional 5% of the ocean with well-managed, strategically placed MPAs would cost 2-6 billion USD annually to manage, and the spillover effect would produce revenue of 15-19 billion USD annually (1). Another study of the effects of spillover from MPAs found that total catch in the surrounding area began to increase just one year after the MPA was implemented (11). In well-managed fisheries, MPAs may have little to no effect on the total catch, though in some cases can decrease overall catch (1). However, the non-market value of MPAs, such as carbon sequestration and preventing coastal erosion, must be considered in tandem to any financial losses that well-managed fisheries might incur.

MPAs and Stakeholder Involvement

MPAs, as with other conservation management strategies, have a long history of prioritizing conservation over the social impacts that imposing protective measures might have. When MPAs are established with the input and cooperation of all stakeholders, they are more likely to be successful and sustainable (12). In a Canadian context, this relates particularly to Indigenous involvement in the establishment and management of MPAs around the country. In order to properly involve Indigenous stakeholders, MPAs must at minimum demonstrate rights and title (13). This means the introduction of a potential MPA must ensure a traditional use study is completed, the MPA agenda must be linked to any treaty agenda, interim agreements must be negotiated while the long process of establishing an MPA is being completed, and finally, the MPA should be co-managed or have Indigenous driven conservation (13).
These recommendations are included in the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) report on collaboration with First Nations on MPAs in British Columbia, though it is far from an exhaustive list of the vital role that Indigenous knowledge and stakeholders play in the success of MPAs. Additionally, MPAs with no-take zones or fully protected areas must make exceptions for food, social, and ceremonial harvesting in terms of rights-based usage for Indigenous people (13).

Costs and Benefits of MPAs

The primary costs associated with MPAs are establishing and operating an MPA and the opportunity cost to commercial fisheries and other industries (6). Primary benefits include improving ecosystem health, provision of food and other materials for subsistence and commercial use, tourism and recreation, coastal protection, restoring biodiversity, and carbon sequestration (6). The costs of MPAs and benefits such as tourism revenue are easily quantifiable, however, many benefits such as restoring biodiversity and carbon sequestration have a myriad of financial benefits but have non-market value. It is particularly difficult to quantify benefits to the open ocean, arctic regions, and temperature regions, due to limited research. These areas encompass the majority of Canadian MPAs (12). Regardless, studies show that there is a strong relationship between higher levels of protection within an MPA and increased financial gain (6). Proper management of MPAs is also a significant factor in the financial success of an MPA. Improper management can disrupt the socio-economic stability of coastal communities by removing the benefits of fisheries, and through poor management, failing to improve ecosystem health and produce a spillover effect (12). It is therefore imperative that MPAs are continuously supported and well-managed after they are established.

When implemented and managed properly, MPAs help facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship between humans and wildlife (14). They also offer nature-based solutions to the growing climate crisis (14). Continuing to support the implementation of MPAs across Canada, in sensitive habitats as well as open ocean can mitigate negative impacts of human pressures to marine and coastal environments and assist in the effort to ensure these vital ecosystems remain intact (14).


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  3. Statistics Canada (2018). Environment. Retrieved from:
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  6. Piper, Liza for The Canadian Encyclopedia (2016). Great Slave Lake. Retrieved from:,now%20stored%20in%20underground%20chambers.
  7. Finlayson, C. M., Arthington, A. H., & Pittock, J. (Eds.). (2018). Freshwater ecosystems in protected areas: Conservation and management. Routledge.
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  11. Pittock, Jamie for WWF (2005). Challenges of freshwater protected areas. Retrieved from:
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  14. Abell, R., Allan, J. D., & Lehner, B. (2007). Unlocking the potential of protected areas for freshwaters. Biological Conservation, 134(1), 48-63.
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  17. International Joint Commission (2020). Role of the IJC. Retrieved from:
  18. Acreman, M., Hughes, K. A., Arthington, A. H., Tickner, D., & Duenas, M. A. (2019). Protected areas and freshwater biodiversity: A novel systematic review distils eight lessons for effective conservation. Conservation Letters.
  19. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2017). Spotlight on Marine Protected Areas in Canada. Retrieved from:
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  21. Lemelin, R. H., Koster, R., Woznicka, I., Metansinine, K., & Pelletier, H. (2010). Voyages to Kitchi Gami: the Lake Superior national marine conservation area and regional tourism opportunities in Canada’s first national marine conservation area. Tourism in marine environments, 6(2-3), 101-118.
  22. Canadian Freshwater Alliance (2020). NOAA’s Lake Erie algal bloom forecast proves that governments need to do more work to save the lake. Retrieved from:
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