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.

This technical report has been created in response to Canada’s commitment to the marine conservation targets set out by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD) to protect 10% of its coastal and marine areas by 2020. Here we will outline Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in a Canadian context, the ecology of MPAs, freshwater protected areas, human-wildlife coexistence, MPA networks, and MPA management tools.

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

What is a Marine Protected Area and Why do We Need Them?

MPAs are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment” (1). The ocean covers over 70% of the Earth and provides essential ecosystem services and yet only 7.56% of the ocean is protected and 2.05% is no-take zones, meaning industries such as commercial fishing, mining, drilling, or other extractive activities are not permitted (2). Recent years have seen an increased push for ocean conservation, partly due to the negative impact of declining ocean health on ecosystem services. It is becoming more evident that human impact not only has a deleterious effect on the terrestrial environment, but also on the marine environment. Though ocean conservation poses different challenges, such as the difficulty of in situ research in a marine context and imposing boundaries on a fluid environment, the decline in ocean health has promoted global movement towards improving ocean conservation. 

In 2010, the UN CBD set out 20 targets, known as the Aichi Targets, in their strategic plan for 2011-2020 (3). The targets are aimed at improving global biodiversity, including improving marine health. Target 11 of the strategic plan states:

“By 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”

Figure 1: Map of MPAs and OECMs across the globe. Credit: INEP-WCMC and IUCN (2)

In the years following, many countries, including Canada, have worked to meet the goal of increasing marine protection by establishing MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). For an introduction to MPAs on a global scale, refer to CPCIL’s blog post, “Why MPAs are the World’s Underwater Parks and Aquatic Lifeline.

Canada's Approach to MPAS

MPAs are essential for conserving marine environments and ecosystem services. In 2015, Canada committed to reaching Aichi Target 11 by 2020 and in 2016, the Canadian government developed a five-pronged approach to achieving this goal (4):

  1. Complete established processes for MPAs already underway 
  2. Establish new, large MPAs in offshore areas
  3. Target areas that are under pressure from human activity
  4. Advance other effective area-based conservation measures
  5. Establish MPAs faster and more effectively

By following the above plan and adhering to standards set by the IUCN and the CBD, Canada has achieved its goal. With the longest coastline in the world and a vast expanse of marine ecosystems, protecting 10% is not insignificant. Currently, Canada has 14 established MPAs, which make up 6% of Canada’s coastal and marine environments, with the additional 4% of protected coastal and marine environment being OECMs.

Applying IUCN Standards to Canadian MPAs

In order for a country to meet Aichi Target 11, marine and coastal areas must meet the IUCN Global Conservation Standards to MPAs. According to the IUCN, “the overriding purpose of a system of protected areas is to increase the effectiveness of in situ biodiversity conservation” (5). 

IUCN’s essential characteristics of an MPA (6):

  1. Conservation focused with nature as the priority
  2. Defined goals and objectives which reflect these conservation values
  3. Suitable size, location, and design that deliver the conservation values
  4. Defined and fairly agreed boundary
  5. Management plan or equivalent, which addresses the need for conservation of the MPA’s major values, and achievement of its social and economic goals and objectives
  6. Resources and capacity to effectively implement the MPA

MPAs differ in their level of protection, across and even within an MPA. They range from fully protected, no-take zones to multiple use areas. Areas with the highest protection generally have greater economic, social, and ecological benefits (7). Beyond the IUCN’s essential characteristics for MPAs, they have outlined “Green List Standards”, which are more prescriptive in order to establish a baseline for conservation and protection standards. The Green List Standards focus on good governance, sound planning and design, effective management, and conservation outcomes, all of which contribute to the overall success of an MPA (6). 

Canada has made great strides towards achieving the Green List Standards in the past few years. For example, in 2019, the Canadian government mandated that industrial activities, including offshore oil and gas, are prohibited in MPAs, though they are permitted on a case-by-case basis in OECMs. Additionally, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has outlined protection standards for MPAs in Canada and has published reports regarding MPA collaboration with First Nations along Canada’s Pacific Coast (8). Although Canada still has far to go to meet the IUCN’s Green List Standard, marine conservation over the past decade has vastly improved within the country and continues in a positive direction.


  1. Kelleher, G. (1999). Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas. Retrieved from:
  2. Protected Planet. (2020). Marine Protected Areas. Retrieved from:
  3. Convention on Biological Diversity. (n.d.). Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Retrieved from:
  4. Schram, C., Ladell, K., Mitchell, J., & Chute, C. (2019). From one to ten: Canada’s approach to achieving marine conservation targets. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 29(S2), 170–180. 
  5. Dudley, N. (2008). Guidelines for applying protected area management categories. In Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines (Vol. 21).
  6. IUCN WCPA. (2018). Applying IUCN’s Global Conservation Standards to Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Retrieved from:
  7. Cabral, R. B., Bradley, D., Mayorga, J., Goodell, W., Friedlander, A. M., Sala, E., Costello, C., & Gaines, S. D. (2020). A global network of marine protected areas for food. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(45), 28134 – 28139. 
  8. Gardner, J. (2009). First Nations and Marine Protected Areas Summary Report: An introduction to First Nations Rights, Concerns and Interests Related to MPAs on Canada’s Pacific Coast. Retrieved from:

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