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North America is failing to make a splash on conservation of marine protected areas; progress is minimal

[Ottawa, Canada  &  Seattle, US] – In the first ever joint assessment of progress on marine protected areas (MPAs) in North America, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) find that Canada, Mexico and the USA have a long way to go to collectively and individually reach international and national targets to protect at least 10% of the continental ocean estate.*

“Despite the known effectiveness of marine protected areas in protecting ocean ecosystems in the long term, and our international commitment to protect at least 10% of our ocean estate by 2020, North America has collectively protected only 1% of ocean, and only .04% is in fully protected areas,” says Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Ocean Program Director.

To prepare the assessment, CPAWS and MCI reviewed publicly available data provided by the governments of Canada, Mexico and the USA on existing MPAs. Each MPA was evaluated against international criteria, including a legal designation, permanence, the presence of an administrative structure, and the existence of a management plan. Sites that met all four criteria were considered “implemented”, while any sites lacking an administrative structure or management plan were considered only “partially implemented” and were excluded from analysis.

“If we are going to protect the incredible variety of ecosystems in our ocean, and the diverse marine species that call them home, we need to do more. The ocean provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that have an estimated worth of $24 trillion dollars globally according to a report by World Wildlife Fund. Protecting the future of the ocean protects our future too,” says Dr. Lance Morgan, President, Marine Conservation Institute.

The Report outlines the need for urgent action, including recommendations to designate all currently proposed sites and partially implemented MPAs, implement strict interim protection measures, establish strategic MPA network planning and secure full, permanent protection for at least 30% of each ecoregion, among other things.

“We have the opportunity to do the right thing, but we need sufficient and consistent funding for MPA establishment, stronger MPA legislation to help overcome jurisdictional complications, and multi-nation collaboration to create transboundary MPAs,” adds Jessen.

Other report highlights:

  • According to the analysis, only 0.88% of the North American continental ocean estate is currently in “implemented” MPAs and only 0.04% is fully protected. Analysis of ecoregion coverage shows that of 23 continental North American marine ecoregions, only 18 contain any marine protected areas. Of these, only nine have more than 1% of the area protected.
  • Canada is furthest behind in protecting its ocean estate with only 0.11% protected. Of this 0.03% is in the Arctic, 0.00% in the Pacific and 0.08% in the Atlantic. 14 proposed MPAs, if completed, would contribute another 2-3% to Canada’s MPA targets. Partially implemented MPAs could add an additional 0.78% to Canada’s total, but only if they had management plans and legislated regulation of marine activities like fishing. Just 0.02% is in strict no-take reserves, the rest is still open to commercial fishing, shipping, and industrial activities.
  • The USA has protected only 1.29% of its continental, ocean estate (i.e., ocean excluding Hawai’i and Pacific Island territories). Of this 0.00% is in the Arctic, 0.72% in the Pacific and 0.57% in the Atlantic/Gulf. A rigorous, quantitative account of fully protected areas in the waters of coastal states indicates the best-protected ones (excluding Hawai’i) are California, Oregon and Florida. The majority of states still lack any fully protected areas in their coastal waters. Only 0.03% of the total USA continental coverage is in fully protected areas; the rest is still open to commercial fishing, extraction, and industrial activities.

View full report

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*”Ocean estate” is defined as the territorial sea plus exclusive economic zone which together extend 200 nmi from each country’s shoreline.

Cover photo: Joe Plakto

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For more information, media and bloggers only, please contact:

Michael Gravitz

Director of Policy, Marine Conservation Institute


Sabine Jessen

Director, CPAWS Oceans Program +1-604-657-2813