A Conversation About Marine Conservation in Canada Through the Use of Parks and Protected Areas

Hameet Singh is 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

The following is a series of Q and A with a Parks Canada representative concerning the various types of marine protected areas (MPAs) in a Canadian context. For more information on MPAs, please visit the “Federal Marine Protected Area Strategy”

 Q1: What is your professional background and what motivated you to pursue your career of choice?

A1: My undergraduate studies were in geography at Queen’s University, and then I moved into education and taught in the GIS realm for about 10 years. I went on to do my Master’s in Conservation Planning. My Master’s thesis examined zoning in the lower South Okanagan-Similkameen Region. At this time, I also became interested in modeling tools, and in particular, I worked with a tool that is used in systematic planning and zoning. From that, I was employed by an NGO called Living Oceans in British Columbia. Eventually, I ended up working with Parks Canada starting in 2007 and for the first 10 years of my career here, I largely focused on establishment projects, including zoning for subterrestrial national parks. I have also worked on the interim zoning plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, and zoning for the proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA). I have also started to work in the consultation realm and have managed a proposal to examine the potential to establish national park lands on Bowen Island. I am now based in Revelstoke, British Columbia, and my current role is in Investment Planning with a two-year assignment in the Marine Conservation Group, Protected Areas Establishment and Conservation Directorate of Parks Canada. My tasks include developing policy and regulations to support NMCAs.

Q2: Could you please define what an MPA is in a Canadian context?  

A2: There are a number of different MPAs in Canada and three government departments that can establish and manage an MPA: 

NMCAs are Parks Canada’s instrument.  NMCAs are established and managed for the purpose of protecting representative marine areas for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada and the world. One of the themes that are unique about the NMCA program is the focus on representativity – we have a system plan similar to our National Parks in which we divide Canada into 29 national marine regions and our goal is to represent each one with an NMCA. We also have a strong emphasis on education, outreach and promoting memorable visitor experiences. There are seven management goals of NMCAs that address the three pillars of sustainability:

  1. Protect marine biodiversity and ecosystems 
  2. Advance effective collaboration for management 
  3. Manage use in an ecologically sustainable manner 
  4. Conserve cultural heritage 
  5. Foster long-term wellbeing of coastal and Indigenous communities 
  6. Facilitate opportunities for meaningful visitor experience 
  7. Enhance awareness and understand of NMCAs 

Q3: What is the process of establishing an NMCA? 

A3: There is a five-step process: 

  1. Identifying representative marine areas 
  2. Select candidate NMCA from among the representative marine areas
    • Examine a range of factors, including ecological representation, collaboration with Indigenous organizations, other governments (provincial, territorial, municipal) or departments, and complementarity with regional and national MPA planning processes 
  3. Assess feasibility/desirability of establishing a candidate NMCA  
    • Work with Indigenous groups, other governments, stakeholders, etc, to compile background information and explore the opportunities and challenges that are presented which is then summarized in a feasibility report 
  4. Negotiating agreements and developing an interim management plan 
    • Agreements can be made with First Nations or other governments/departments. The interim plan will guide the management of the area for the first five years before an actual management plan is developed. The interim management plan contains topics such as a vision for the area, management goals and objectives, zoning, and any restrictions or limitations that have been agreed to through the negotiation process 
  5. Establish NMCA 

Q4: How are NMCAs governed in Canada? What is the primary legislation used to establish and govern them? 

A4: The primary legislation is the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act. Under this act, we have the authority to establish and manage NMCAs to the extent that other federal government departments do not already have authority in the region. For example, if we developed a management plan, we would not be able to manage fisheries without DFO approval. We would work collaboratively with DFO who would have to sign off on any decisions made with respect to fisheries management. There is a wide suite of other legislation that would apply in an NMCA, which can make its governance very complex.

Q5: What are some of the tools that Parks Canada uses to monitor and manage NMCAs?

A5: We use various tools to achieve our goals with respect to NMCAs, such as zoning, special management areas voluntary measures, monitoring and research (to assess the state of the existing environment), management planning processes, legislation and regulations, permitting processes, education and awareness, temporary closures, etc. 

Q6: In September 2019, the government announced new goals of protecting 25% of Canada’s oceans by 2025. Canada surpassed its previous goal of attaining 10% protection by 2020 with the establishment of larger MPAs in the north. Could you please speak to the importance of ocean targets such as these and how the government goes about achieving them? 

A6: The goals are essentially our marching orders and are part of the departmental plan, our budget and the minister’s mandate. We are working towards achieving 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030 and have commitments made towards the establishment of various parks across Canada. Parks Canada has contributed a significant portion to the achievement of these goals. There are five proposed NMCAs, namely: 

  1. Îles-de-la-Madeleine – Quebec 
  2. Southern Strait of Georgia – British Columbia 
  3. Eastern James Bay – Ontario 
  4. Tallurutiup Imanga – Nunavut 
  5. Labrador Coast – Newfoundland and Labrador 

Q7: What is the value of having a network of NMCAs?  

A7: We are seeing a decline in marine biodiversity, abundance of species and other threats to the oceans with respect to industrial development, climate change and other stressors. There are also concerns regarding the rate of extractive usage. Canada’s oceans are extremely valuable and they provide a multitude of ecological services, so their preservation is very important. 

Q8: What role do local communities play in the establishment of NMCAs? 

A8: Local community support is very important to Parks Canada. For example, we did a feasibility study that I was involved with on Bowen Island, and the community decided to conduct a public vote which resulted in a rejection of the proposal, so we walked away. This is a component that is extremely important to us and we want to have the support of local communities, and in particular, the support of Indigenous Peoples. 

Q9: What are some of the bigger challenges in achieving marine sustainability and how can they be overcome?

A9: For me, it’s working around the complexity of the overlapping authoritative bodies. I am currently working on developing regulations, and this can only be done in the areas that we have the authority to do so. If there is an area concerning fisheries, we must collaborate with Fisheries and Ocean’s Canada. There are usually two components when it comes to protected areas – their establishment and effective management. We currently do not have regulations under the NMCA Act, and these are in development so that we can manage these areas more effectively. The collaborative component can get complicated because it tends to take up a lot of time and resources to do so and reach a consensus. 

Q10: What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in their career and wants to work in marine conservation?

A10: Follow your passion and interest because a lot of people who go into this field are extremely passionate about the work that they do. Cater to the areas that you excel in (i.e. communications, social media, marketing, research and analysis, science, policy, planning, GIS etc) and leverage your area of expertise and background. It is sometimes difficult to obtain government positions, so if you are early in your career, environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOS) are a really great place to start (i.e. CPAWS, WWF-Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, etc).

Q11: What are some resources one could consult if they wanted to know more about this topic? 

A11: I would recommend and consult the resources and documents that the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published on this topic. 

Resource Spotlight – Wildsmart

WildSmart human-wildlife coexistence program logo.


WildSmart is an organisation based in the Bow Valley dedicated to reducing negative human-wildlife interactions in the area. Established in 2009 as a branch of the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, WildSmart has grown over the last decade to reach thousands of residents and visitors alike [1].

WildSmart logo
Go to website.
“Wildsmart is a proactive conservation program that encourages efforts by the Bow Valley communities to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions”

In the last few decades, the Bow Valley has grown in popularity, becoming a major tourist destination. Canmore, in particular, has transformed from a small mining town into a mountain retreat [2]. The increase in population, infrastructure, and activity in the Bow Valley has caused conflict between the native wildlife and the region’s commercial development. WildSmart was established as a resource to educate the public on the importance of wildlife coexistence and to implement initiatives to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions [1]. It is an excellent example of a program that is turning conflict into coexistence.

Why the Bow Valley?

The Bow Valley is an important wildlife corridor used by many large mammal species, such as elk, bears, wolves, and cougars. Many key species in the Bow Valley region require a large amount of space and are highly migratory or transient [1]. The Bow Valley wildlife corridor connects the larger, surrounding areas of Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country allowing both populations to safely roam. The combination of the wildlife corridor and habitat loss in the Bow Valley due to development has resulted in the Canmore area having significant wildlife in close proximity to human activity [2]. WildSmart has made great strides to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions

Primary Initiatives

Wildlife Reports: WildSmart publishes weekly Bear Reports from April through November to report bear sightings in the Bow Valley and Banff Area. Their Current Trail Warnings and Closures resource shows real time trail closures and warnings in Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country due to wildlife activity [1].

Attractant Management: The attractant management program is aimed at removing any potential food sources for wildlife from densely inhabited or frequented areas. Attractant management focuses on natural and unnatural food sources from buffalo berry removal to proper garbage disposal. WildSmart also provides free equipment rental for attractant removal [1].

Wildlife Ambassadors: Wildlife ambassadors are community volunteers trained by WildSmart to assist in public outreach and education, avoiding or handling wildlife encounters, and conflict resolution. Wildlife ambassadors interact with the community in an educational capacity through roving and stationary wildlife talks. Currently, the Wildlife Ambassador program is undergoing changes to incorporate new initiatives such as citizen science and social media campaigns [1].

Education and Community Outreach: Education and outreach is congruent with several of the aforementioned initiatives. This program includes interacting with schools in the community to provide classroom programs and supporting teachers by providing educational materials. WildSmart also hosts several community events, such as bear spray training sessions, a speaker series, and education through media outlets [1].

Resource Spotlight – Khutz Grizzlies

Khutz grizzlies graphic

Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary (K’tzim-a-deen) comprises 44,300 hectares of protected land. It is jointly managed by British Columbia Parks, the Coast Tsimshian First Nation, and the Gitsi’is Tribe [1]. The area is protected to preserve an important habitat for the grizzly bear population and an area of significant cultural importance. The Khutzeymateen is located 45 km northwest of Prince Rupert, BC and is accessible by boat or floatplane [2].

Go to website.
The Tsimshian Nation’s K’tzim-a-deen means “Valley at the head of the inlet” [1]
Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary comprises Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, Khutzeymateen Inlet Conservency, and Khutzeymateen Inlet West Conservancy. The provincial park was established in 1994 as a Class A provincial park. It was the first area in Canada to be protected specifically for the preservation of grizzly bears [1]. As a class A provincial park, conservation in the park is prioritized over human use. In 2008, the Inlet and Inlet West Conservancy were established to provide further protection to the area [1]. Visitor access is restricted to a fixed number of permits per year and access to the river estuary is only permitted with a guide or for research purposes [2].

Key Strategies for Conservation

Maintain flora and fauna: Flora and fauna in the protected area are maintained for its inherent value to the environment as well as its traditional value to the Coast Tsimshian Nation. Inventories and assessments are conducted for culturally important resources and sensitive species or species at risk, and protective measures are implemented when necessary. Protective measures include ecological restoration, educational initiatives, supporting water quality monitoring, and many more [2].

Protect plant and animal species: The protected areas serve as a habitat for significant plant and animal species. The Khutzeymateen watershed is an important spawning location for multiple species of salmon. The shoreline and estuary are of high biological importance for waterfowl, waterbirds, pacific salmon, salmonid stocks, and grizzly bears. The diversity of nutrient-rich forbs and sedges contribute to the health of the grizzly bear habitat. Along with grizzly bears, the area is an important habitat for black bears and mountain goats [2].

Protect special features of the environment: The Khutzeymateen encompasses many special environmental features including multiple biogeoclimatic subzones and the Crow Lagoon. The Crow Lagoon is a special feature because it protects what is thought to be a volcanic cone and is also the source of a story told by Coast Tsimshian elders. Special feature zones have restricted activities and facilities so as to maintain the integrity of the sites [2].

Protect Coast Tsimshian cultural uses: The Khutzeymateen is an important area for the Coast Tsimshian Nation for social, ceremonial, cultural, and economic purposes. The area has historically been used for harvesting, gathering, and hunting and is still used for those purposes today. The Gitsi’is do not hunt Grizzly bears, believing that “the soul of a person that dies may reincarnate into the Grizzly bear” [2, pg. 11]. Multiple archaeological sites have also been discovered in the Khutzeymateen protected areas [2].

Provide controlled Grizzly Bear viewing: Standards of practice have been implemented within the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. Grizzly bear viewing is controlled by training viewing guides in bear behaviour, regulating viewing distances and number of viewing groups, regulating access to the park, and improving education surrounding safe interactions with and conservation of Grizzly bears [2].

Why the Khutzeymateen?

The Khutzeymateen was designated as a protected area for grizzly bears because of the rich and diverse habitat, abundant food sources, and cultural importance for the Coast Tsimshian Nation [1]. The Khutzeymateen is home to one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in Canada [1]. Grizzly bears require a large home range within a functional ecosystem that will provide them with a variety of food sources and prey availability [2]. The Khutzeymateen estuary provides a vital source of salmon for Grizzly bears as well as mussels and other molluscs on which to forage. The diverse topography of the park also provides an important habitat for shore birds, aquatic animals, and other flora and fauna [2].

Resource Spotlight – Eco-Whale Alliance

Eco-Whale Alliance

The Eco-Whale Alliance, or Alliance Éco-Baleine, is an initiative operating out of Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park. The Alliance is a member-based organization aimed at highlighting best practice for whale-watching activities to minimize or eliminate any negative impacts on marine mammals [1].

Eco-Whale Alliance logo
Go to website.
"The users of a resource are responsible for ensuring its sustainability"
Eco-Whale Alliance

The Eco-Whale Alliance was born out of a need for stricter guidelines regarding animal wellbeing in the Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park. Members include excursion companies operating out of the marine park, the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), Sépaq, and Parks Canada. The Eco-Whale Alliance is working to ensure every stakeholder involved in whale-watching ecotourism is invested in sustainable tourism and the conservation of large marine mammals [1].

Primary Initiatives

Marine Activities Management Plan: The purpose of the Marine Activities Management Plan is to enforce the marine park’s mandate to “increase, for the benefit of the present and future generations, the level of protection of the ecosystems of a representative portion of the Saguenay River and the St. Lawrence Estuary for conservation purposes, while encouraging its use for educational, recreational and scientifc purposes”. The management plan was put in place in 2011 and set out a detailed action plan to ensure the mandate is respected [3].

Guide to Eco-Responsible Practices: The Guide to Eco-Responsible Practices serves as a manual for marine tour captians and naturalists. It is a comprehensive guide focusing on passenger interactions and navigation within the marine park. The guide emphasizes the importance of education and interpretation as part of a sustainable whale-watching experience. In particular, it emphasizes the role of captians and naturalists as stewards of the land. It is their responsibility to ensure proper respect is given to the marine mammals that guests have the privilege of interacting with [4].

Eco-Whale Fund: The Eco-Whale Fund was established to support whale research, training, and education in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. It is primarily funded by excursion companies operating in the marine park, which are involved in the Eco-Whale Alliance. Funds are directed towards monitoring and training programs, as well as research and development projects [1].

Why the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park?

The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park is a key habitat for many whale species and is therefore one of the best places in the world for whale-watching [2]. The upwelling zone in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park causes essential nutrients to be pushed towards the surface of the water, providing an essential food source for the whale species that inhabit the area [2]. The most common whale species in the marine park are Beluga, Blue, Right, Fin, Minke, and Humpback whales and the Harbour porpoise. Within the Atlantic populations of these seven species, three are endangered, two are special concern, and two are not at risk [2].

Goals for Sustainable Whale Watching

The Eco-Whale Alliance has set out the following criteria for excursion companies to ensure sustainable whale watching [1]:

  • Emphasize raising awareness of whale conservation
  • Limit the impacts of whale watching activities
  • Monitor the animals and the effectiveness of management measures
  • Follow responsible practices from an environmental, social, and economic point of view
  • Develop a multilateral approach to conservation by consulting tourism, research, and conservation stakeholders

Human-Wildlife Coexistence Programs You Should Know About

By Rachel Goldstein

Rachel Goldstein is 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. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

As a Canadian, I’ve had the privilege of coexisting with wildlife from a very young age. Spending my summers at Charleston Lake Provincial Park (CLPP) in Ontario, I would anxiously await the early signs of summer, not only for the warm temperatures, but because that is when the turtles would begin making their annual pilgrimage to the perfect nesting spot. Driving to CLPP, where I eventually started working as a naturalist, I was often late because I had stopped yet again to help a snapping turtle safely cross the road (which, it turns out, is a valid excuse for a naturalist to be late). Later in my life, I moved to Alberta, where I could observe grizzly bears rearing their cubs and foraging for berries. I got to hear elk bugle and was once lucky enough to see a lynx carefully picking its way across the Icefields Parkway. 

The one thing that united all of these positive experiences is they were all on my terms. I chose to observe or interact with wildlife. Coexisting with wildlife is never as glamorous when a racoon topples your garbage bin or a grey ratsnake decides to set up camp in your shed. In these instances, it no longer feels like coexisting; it feels like conflict. But in reality, we do not get to decide when to peacefully coexist and when to evict an endangered snake from a shed-turned-hibernaculum. It is in these instances that I remind myself that the wildlife is not encroaching on me, I have encroached on wildlife.

From Conflict to Coexistence

When I began my research into the topic of human-wildlife coexistence (HWC), I originally thought of the ‘C’ in HWC as ‘conflict’. I had always looked at this topic as resolving the conflict between humans and wildlife. The more I delved into HWC and re-examined my own relationship with wildlife, however, the more I realized it is not conflict resolution we should be seeking, but coexistence. My research quickly led me down the path of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)[1]. In parks and conservation, greater effort is being made to move beyond the colonial approach to conservation and towards traditional knowledge. In a way, we are moving backwards from colonial conservation and reverting to a way of conservation that Indigenous people have been facilitating for millennia. When I began to look at human-wildlife coexistence from a TEK lens, it became clear that the problem is not that humans and wildlife exist in the same space, the problem is that we do not know how to harmoniously coexist in this space.

Elk on road with vehicles in Banff National Park.
Photo by Touann Gatouillat Vergos / Unsplash.com

Human-wildlife conflict is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) HWC Task Force as something that “occurs when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of people, leading to the persecution of that species. Retaliation against the species blamed often ensues, leading to conflict about what should be done to remedy the situation”[2]. In recent decades, HWC has shifted from a narrative of ‘problem’ animals to an anthropocentric narrative of human-human conflict. The IUCN considers HWC as an issue of multiple stakeholders including conservationists, parks, Indigenous communities, farmers, landowners, tour companies, and so on, with conflicting interests over the land and wildlife. The diversity of stakeholders coupled with the diversity of wildlife has led to a need for multiple approaches to HWC, even within Canada.

Human-wildlife coexistence can take many forms, as can the conflicts that arise from such coexistence. HWC can have significant impacts on human and wildlife welfare, both positive and negative. Some negative impacts include loss of biodiversity, diminished ecosystem health, loss of human life, disease transmission, economic losses, particularly relating to agriculture and farming, and, in extreme circumstances, species extinction. Positive impacts are often less tangible and can include ecosystem services, increased human mental and physical wellbeing, economic growth due to tourism, increased empathy towards wildlife, and connection to nature [3,4].

HWC Programs You Should Know About

Across Canada, different programs have been developed to assist with HWC so that conservation and human activity are both prioritized, without one taking undue precedence over the other. These programs range in every way imaginable; they are diverse in order to accommodate the diverse ecology of Canada. Wildsmart in the Bow Valley, AB focuses on unavoidable human encounters with wildlife when recreating in the area. The Eco-Whale Alliance in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park provides resources for whale-watching guides and tour companies so that they may be sustainable stewards of the land, rather than simply consumers. The Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill, MB, protects townspeople and tourists from the annual migration of polar bears through the town towards arctic sea ice, while ensuring safe passage for the bears. 

These HWC programs are running across Canada, boosting tourism economy, protecting people and wildlife alike, and improving the way we coexist with the land. This series of posts profiles the unique and necessary work being done by HWC programs for our benefit. Though there is no single solution to navigating wildlife coexistence, these programs are allowing us to move towards a more peaceful and harmonious relationship with nature.

What programs facilitating human-wildlife coexistence do you think should be highlighted? Please provide the name of the organization in the space below.