2017 NMCAs

NMCAs provide for:

  • The protection and conservation of a marine area and the continuation of ecologically sustainable use. 
  • They are not the equivalent of national parks in the water but stand-alone under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act 2002.


  • conserve marine biological diversity and maintain marine ecological processes and life support systems;
  • cannot compromise the structure and function of the marine ecosystem;
  • include the seabed, subsoil and water column; and 
  • are managed on an ecosystem basis.

  • NMCAs are relatively large and zoned to provide for a range in levels of protection and conservation from total protection to ecologically sustainable use.
  • An NMCA reserve is used to protect the lands and waters without prejudice to unresolved Aboriginal land claims. Existing traditional use activities
    by Aboriginal people continue while claims are under negotiation. The harvesting rights confirmed in future claim settlement agreements would apply in an NMCA. 

What has been learned

  • Coastal protected areas established only on land or only in water inevitably don’t function well by ignoring the land/water interaction;
  • Size matters; small protected areas also do not function well, especially in coastal areas where external influences are pervasive;
  • When the opportunity presents itself, take an ecosystem approach and ensure the protected area encompasses as much of the terrestrial/marine ecosystem as possible.
  • Single-focused objectives (i.e. fisheries management) do not encourage a holistic approach to management.
  • For highly utilized ecosystems that then become protected areas, a priority on early recovery is key to future management; remember the concept of ‘diminishing baselines’: a shift over time in the expectation of what a healthy ecosystem looks like;
  • This can often require significant reform to traditional management practices; continuing the "status quo" will likely not succeed;
  • Effective governance, regulation and management capacity are essential;
  • A timely response to protected area establishment and institutional change is crucial.

Canada’s Level of Protection

  • Canada is furthest behind in North America having protected only 0.11% of its ocean estate; 
  • ranks last among world’s 10 largest marine areas; ranks 106th of all countries;
  • Pacific: accounts for 0.78% partially protected;
    • Arctic: accounts for 0.3%;
    • Atlantic: accounts for 0.08%;
  • Nationally, only 0.02% is fully protected from commercial fishing, shipping and industrial activities;
  • All MPAs in Canada’s Pacific protect about 3% of the ocean estate; while 90% of these MPAs intend to exclude fishing, only 2.5% actually do.

What Difference Could an NMCAR Make?

  • No development of non-renewable resources;
  • Increased protection of habitat;
  • Improved water quality;
  • Restoration of depleted species;
  • Protection of cultural resources;
  • A management regime of ecologically sustainable use;
  • Public awareness, understanding and enjoyment;
  • Social and economic benefits for communities;
  • Improved ocean governance.