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Canadian Oceans need more meaningful protection suggests new report

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With more and more threats posing risk to marine life globally as well as Canada in particular, there is a need to provide more meaningful protection to Canadian oceans, a new report has suggested.

According to Living Planet Report 2016, oceans are suffering with a 36 per cent overall decline of ocean species between 1970 and 2012 with one of the major reasons being overexploitation. The report notes that almost one-third (31 per cent) of fish stocks globally are harvested at unsustainable levels, which is an increase since the last Living Planet Report in 2014.

Habitat loss is also another reason behind decline in marine ecosystems and this in turn threatens human lives and livelihoods as well, both globally and closer to home in Canada. The country has already seen decline in marine species as well as fishery collapses with cod stocks around Newfoundland being the best example of this whose population plummeted due to historical overfishing and changing environmental conditions in 1980s.

Marine mammals such as the North Atlantic right whale are threatened by shipping collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. Beluga whales are threatened by chemical and noise pollution, as well as loss of habitat. And all species in Canada will feel the effects of climate change, which is happening faster than species can adapt.

Smaller fish including small prey species like herring and capelin are important species as well because they provide the food for the larger species all the way up the food chain. Forage fish are vulnerable to climate change and overfishing, and at least three Canadian forage fish stocks are known to be in critical condition. There could be more in trouble – we just don’t know, WWF-Canada found in this recent study of the state of forage fish in Canada.

A first step to slow biodiversity loss in our oceans is to develop a network of marine protected areas that shelter ocean life and habitats, giving species and their habitat a place to recover from human impacts like pollution or overfishing, in the same way that national parks do on land.

At the moment, Canada only protects about one per cent of its oceans and Great Lakes, though it has committed to increasing that to 10 per cent by 2020. Expanding the area protected, and including meaningful minimum standards that would prevent oil and gas exploration and significant commercial fishing, could make a great difference to species and habitats, and possibly even reverse some of the biodiversity declines we’ve seen in our oceans.

The Living Planet Report 2016 sounds the alarm, but we’re the ones responsible for responding to the call. With the world’s longest coastline and rich marine life in all three oceans, Canada should be a leader in ocean protection. Ocean health can be restored. Now’s the time to make critical changes.

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