The intricate deep-sea ecosystem of the Laurentian Channel, housing species such as cold-water corals, sea anemones, sea pens, fish species and larger aquatic life

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.

With the longest coastline in the world and a motto of A Mari Usque Ad Mare or “From Sea to Sea,” Canada has a vested interest in protecting its marine resources. 14 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and 4 National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs) have been implemented to preserve a healthy marine environment, support cultural and socioeconomic facets of local communities and the nation as a whole. This post is the second of a three-part series, highlighting a Canadian MPA from the nation’s three oceans – the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic. For more information on what an MPA is, please visit this post

The Atlantic - Laurentian Channel

Map of the Laurentian Channel
Figure 1: Map of the Laurentian Channel MPA (DFO, 2019)

Established in April 2019, the Laurentian Channel MPA is nestled between Cape Breton Island and the southwest coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, opening into the Gulf of St. Lawrence (1) (Figure 1). At 11,580 km2 or slightly larger than Jamaica, it is the biggest MPA in Atlantic Canada in terms of surface area. The MPA protects 11,580 km2 of the 35,800 km2 that make up the Laurentian Channel, a deep submarine valley formed by deglaciation during the last Ice Age (2). The seabed, subsoil to a depth of five metres, and the water column above the seabed are all protected under the MPA.

Ecological Significance

The intricate deep-sea ecosystem of the Laurentian Channel, housing species such as cold-water corals, sea anemones, sea pens, fish species and larger aquatic life
The intricate deep-sea ecosystem of the Laurentian Channel, housing species such as cold-water corals, sea anemones, sea pens, fish species and larger aquatic life
The intricate deep-sea ecosystem of the Laurentian Channel, housing species such as cold-water corals, sea anemones, sea pens, fish species and larger aquatic life
Figure 2: The intricate deep-sea ecosystem of the Laurentian Channel, housing species such as cold-water corals, sea anemones, sea pens, fish species and larger aquatic life (CHONe, n.d.; DFO, 2019).

The MPA is situated in the Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Bioregion and is described as ecologically significant as the Laurentian Channel has the highest levels of biodiversity off of Newfoundland shores (3). The depth of the Channel is up to 500 m and is abundant with a rich variety of deep undersea life and habitats, including high concentrations of sensitive cold-water corals, sponges and sea pens (4) (Figure 2). It also supports larger marine species, such as the Northern wolfish, porbeagle and basking sharks, smooth skate, Atlantic cod, redfish, 20 species of whales and dolphins, and the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle (5). In addition, it has the highest population and only known pupping grounds of black dogfish in Canada (6). It is highly important for the ecological niches of these species and for providing spawning, nursing, migration and feeding areas (7).

Management and Governance

The MPA prohibits certain practices like bottom trawling, which could be especially destructive to highly sensitive marine species such as sea pens that are unique to the region
Figure 3: The MPA prohibits certain practices like bottom trawling, which could be especially destructive to highly sensitive marine species such as sea pens that are unique to the region (Oceana, n.d.)

On World Oceans Day June 8th 2010, the then Minister of Fisheries and Oceans at the time announced the Laurentian Channel as an Area of Interest due to its ecological importance. After a series of socio-economic and ecological assessments, and public consultation processes, the area was established as an MPA under the Ocean’s Act (3). It was the largest MPA of its time and a collaborative effort between the Governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador (5). The primary conservation objectives of the MPA are to protect and recover biodiversity and marine species residing in its ecosystem from harm due to human activity (1). Its regulations, “prohibit activities that disturb, damage, destroy or remove from this Area, living marine organisms or any part of their habitat or that is likely to do so, unless listed as exceptions in the Regulations or approved by the Minister (8).” These prohibitions include recreational and commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, seismic surveys, mining, dumping, and bottom trawling (5) (Figure 3). It is important to note that the MPA was potentially considered for being open to oil and gas development in 2017, but was ultimately barred from such activities due to pressure from environmental NGOs such as WWF-Canada and public support (9). The MPA is divided into two management zones providing varying levels of protection in which some exemptional activities may be carried out. The Adaptive Management Zone allows for anchoring, submarine cable installation and scientific research, only if it does not impact the conservation objectives of the MPA.  The Core Protection Zone allows activities carried out for public safety, national security, marine navigation activities, and Indigenous fisheries (5).

References

  1. DFO (2019). Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area (MPA). Retrieved from: https://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/oceans/mpa-zpm/laurentian-laurentien/index-eng.html
  2. Shaw, J., Piper, D. J. W., Fader, G. B. J., King, E. L., Todd, B. J., Bell, T., … & Liverman, D. G. E. (2006). A conceptual model of the deglaciation of Atlantic Canada. Quaternary Science Reviews, 25(17-18), 2059-2081.
  3. CPAWS (n.d.). Laurentian Channel MPA. Retrieved from: https://cpawsnl.org/laurentian-channel-mpa/
  4. CHONe (n.d.).EVALUATING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF A DEEP-WATER MPA; THE LAURENTIAN CHANNEL AOI. Retrieved from: http://chone2.ca/find-research/laurentian-channel/
  5. Government of Canada (2019). Backgrounder: Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/fisheries-oceans/news/2019/04/backgrounder-laurentian-channel-marine-protected-area.html
  6. CBC News (2019). Oil and gas out of N.L. marine protected areas, welcome in marine refuges. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/laurentian-channel-oil-and-gas-ban-1.5111303
  7. Smellie, Sarah for CBC News (2017). Industry has too much sway in marine protected areas, says scientist. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/laurentian-channel-mpa-oil-gas-1.4140063
  8. Justice Laws Website (2021). Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area Regulations (SOR/2019-105). Retrieved from: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2019-105/index.html
  9. WWF (2019). NO OIL AND GAS IN MARINE PROTECTED AREAS IS A BIG WIN FOR WHALES. Retrieved from: https://wwf.ca/stories/no-oil-gas-marine-protected-areas-big-win-whales/
  10. Oceana (n.d.). Bottom trawling. Retrieved from: https://usa.oceana.org/bottom-trawling

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