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.

An MPA network is defined by the IUCN as, “a collection of individual MPAs that operate co-operatively and synergistically, at various spatial scales, and with a range of protection levels, in order to fulfill ecological aims more effectively and comprehensively than individual sites could alone (1).” While an individual MPA can bring a myriad of social, ecological, and economic benefits, it is ultimately limited in its capacity to achieve marine sustainability because they do not address the highly intricate and connected nature of ecosystems (2).

Figure 1: Footage from a wildlife camera showing a black bear using a wildlife crossing in Kootenay National Park. Credit: CBC

MPA networks strive to fulfill this gap by ensuring connectivity between singular reserves. They are akin to the concept of wildlife corridors, which are often implemented in terrestrial parks to combat against fragmentation and better facilitate the movement of species. These corridors have shown evidence of increased habitat connectivity and decreased wildlife fatalities, with the ones used in Banff and Kootenay National Parks (Figure 1) reducing wildlife collisions by more than 90% (3). They can also increase genetic diversity and combat inbreeding in isolated populations, which often occurs when habitats are fragmented. 

Figure 2: Graphic depicting now MPA networks work to ensure connectivity between individual sites and habitats. Credit: DFO

Established in strategic locations, MPA networks work in similar ways and provide parallel benefits. They can better align with the critical habitats, migration patterns and ecological niches of the species that they strive to protect. MPA networks enhance the benefits a single MPA brings because they are more biologically integrated and provide connectivity between marine ecosystems, in turn improving their productivity (4). They consist of core protected habitats connected by corridors to allow species movement between specific sites (Figure 2) (5). Certain design principles entailing size, strategic placing, spatial distribution and management regulations and taking into account context-specific factors can further increase the functionality and effectiveness of MPA networks (2). Furthermore, by establishing spatial links, MPA networks maintain ecosystem processes and improve ocean resilience to larger threats like climate change through the relocation of risks (6). 

Synergically placed, the creation of protected pathways implemented in MPA networks allows species to maintain their migratory routes, protects key habitat areas and ensures overall marine sustainability. However, the establishment of MPA networks also comes with unique challenges, such as difficulty of working across various jurisdictions, broader consultation of stakeholders involved, and the complexity of monitoring and managing a larger marine space (7). There are examples of MPA networks established around the world, including the Scottish MPA network (8), California’s MPA network (9), and the networks encompassing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (10). Canada is working to establish an MPA network off the coast of British Columbia and is also involved in the North American MPA Network (NAMPAN). 

Canada-British Columbia Marine Protected Area Network

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is working towards establishing the Canada-British Columbia MPA network off of Canada’s Pacific coast. The network is currently in development and is a collaborative effort between the Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia and First Nations communities (11). Pacific Canada’s marine environment is richly biodiverse and productive, making it a significant area for the establishment of an MPA network. It also hosts culturally and historically significant facets such as archaeological sites, shipwrecks, and areas of spiritual importance to Indigenous peoples. The Canada-British Columbia MPA network will ensure the protection of marine ecosystems, contribute to the achievement of Canada’s conservation goals, and preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage.

The North American Marine Protected Areas Network (NAMPAN)

NAMPAN is a significant and joint effort between Canada, the United States and Mexico to create a continental-wide system of MPA networks, spanning the oceans connecting all three nations. It was established with the support of the Biodiversity Conservation Program of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in North America (CEC) in 1999 (12). The goal of NAMPAN is to establish an effective system of national MPA networks that enhances and protects marine biodiversity, through the support of tri-national managers, scientists and policy makers. It promotes cooperation between the three nations by addressing common challenges that they share and provides important learning opportunities for practitioners to strengthen their local marine management.  It strives to build stewardship through the local, regional, national and international levels through the exchange of knowledge and dialogue.

Figure 3: The Baja California to Bering Sea Region (B2B) has been identified as an Ecologically Significant Region. Credit: CEC

NAMPAN’s objective is similar to the Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) initiative at the terrestrial level (13), with the Baja California to Bering Sea region (B2B) identified as an Ecologically Significant Region having high potential for collaborative opportunities (Figure 3) (14). It is represented by the US through NOAA’s National Marine Protected Areas Centre, by Canada through Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada, and by Mexico through the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (15). NAMPAN also provides an opportunity to fortify the scientific literature on the behaviour of migratory species that cross tri-national boundaries, such as wintering waterfowl travelling from Canada to the Yucatan Peninsula, or the gray whale, which has the longest known migration route of any mammal, traversing from the cold waters off the coast of Alaska, to the warm, sheltered lagoons of the Baja Peninsula (16). NAMPAN also provides regular professional development opportunities for practitioners through webinars and conferences, with content presented by scientists and managers from all three nations. 

MPA networks support marine ecosystem functionality through encompassing temporal and spatial scales in their design. They also better protect ecological integrity if strategically placed and fortify the resilience of systems. MPA networks are required to maintain ecological linkages, preserve habitat distribution patterns of species, and achieve ocean sustainability. 


    1. MPA Network BC Northern Shelf (n.d.). About MPAs. Retrieved from:
    2.  Burt et al (2014). Marine Protected Area Network Design Features That Support Resilient Human-Ocean Systems. Retrieved from:
    3. Robbins, Jim (2011). Can Wildlife Corridors Heal Fragmented Landscapes? Retrieved from:
    4. PEW (2020). The Need for a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean. Retrieved from:
    5. NOAA (n.d.). Ecological Connectivity for Marine Protected Areas. Retrieved from:
    6. IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN-WCPA) (2008). Establishing Marine Protected Area Networks—Making It Happen. Washington, D.C.: IUCN-WCPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy.
    7. WCPA/IUCN (2007). Establishing networks of marine protected areas: A guide for developing national and regional capacity for building MPA networks. Retrieved from:
    8. Hopkins, C. R., Bailey, D. M., & Potts, T. (2016). Scotland’s Marine Protected Area network: reviewing progress towards achieving commitments for marine conservation. Marine Policy, 71, 44-53.
    9. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (2021). California’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network. Retrieved from:
    10. McCook, L. J., Ayling, T., Cappo, M., Choat, J. H., Evans, R. D., De Freitas, D. M., … & Williamson, D. H. (2010). Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef: a globally significant demonstration of the benefits of networks of marine reserves. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(43), 18278-18285.
    11. DFO (2017). Canada-British Columbia Marine Protected Area Network Strategy. Retrieved from:
    12. NOAA (n.d.). North American Marine Protected Areas Network. Retrieved from:
    13. Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (2021). Vision and mission. Retrieved from:
    14. Commission for Environmental Cooperation (2021). Baja to Bering Region. Retrieved from:,by%20the%20CEC%20in%202000
    15. NAMPAN (n.d.). Community. Retrieved from:
    16. Jones, M. L., Swartz, S. L., & Leatherwood, S. (Eds.). (2012). The gray whale: Eschrichtius robustus. Academic Press.
    17. CBC News (2014). Parks Canada video catches 1st black bear to use wildlife crossing. Retrieved from:
    18. DFO (2018). What is the network? Retrieved from:

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