1 Marine Protection | West Coast Environmental Law


Marine Protection

The sea provides Canadians with oxygen, food, jobs and an inexhaustible source of wonder. But if we don’t do more to protect it, the ocean’s health and the wealth it produces will continue to decline.

This year, our Marine Program has primarily focused on laying the groundwork for a much-needed paradigm shift in ocean management. The integrated ecosystem-based marine spatial plans developed in a process co-led by the BC government and 18 First Nations has created management zones in the spectacular marine area known as the Great Bear Sea. Now we need to secure lasting legal protection for these innovative Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) plans.

West Coast’s lawyers are researching, analyzing, designing and implementing innovative legal strategies grounded in BC, Canadian and Indigenous law to secure lasting protection of marine waters and coastal lands in the MaPP planning area in central and northern BC. A network of marine protected areas (MPAs) will be at the centre of these integrated plans. We are deeply engaged with a variety of partners – including First Nations, ENGOs, governments and the fisheries sector – to explore ways to create efficient and effective legally-binding MPAs.

Photo: Mike Ambach


  • June 2015: Staff lawyer Linda Nowlan presented a paper to an environmental legal conference in Kananaskis, Alberta about marine protection on the Pacific, which analyzed the MaPP plans. The paper was later published in the Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, the go-to resource for environmental lawyers in Canada.
  • September 2015: Together with colleagues from other ENGOs and members of the Coasts that Work network, we organized and hosted a session at the Union of BC Municipalities AGM in Vancouver to discuss how the province of BC could play more of a leadership role in ocean and coastal issues.
  • September 2015 – present: West Coast is working with the Coastal Stewardship Network on enforcement of Indigenous law in the marine environment, and assisting with the preparation of a Toolkit for Guardians across the country.
  • May 2016: Staff lawyer Linda Nowlan presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which is conducting a study on federal protected areas, about the legal tools needed to implement marine plans and the “golden opportunity” to accelerate MPA creation in the Great Bear Sea.
  • July 2016: West Coast took part in a gathering of over 1,000 marine scientists and policy-makers at the biennial International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John's, Newfoundland, where we spoke about ways to get legal traction for the MaPP plans and networked with experts from across North America intrigued by MaPP's work.


Our Environmental Decision-making work is funded by the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation.