1 Marine Conservation | West Coast Environmental Law


Marine Conservation

Canada is an ocean nation. Our motto, A Mari Usque Ad Mare, means “from sea to sea.” Eight of ten provinces and all three territories – home to 86 per cent of the Canadian population – are adjacent to salt water. Our coastline is more than 200,000 kilometres long, said to be the longest in the world. Our oceans cover some seven million square kilometres, seven-tenths the size of our landmass. We are an ocean nation. But we are failing our oceans. 

- Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel’s report, Sustaining Canada's Marine Biodiversity: Responding to the Challenges Posed by Climate Change, Fisheries, and Aquaculture

This quote sums up the enormous challenge we face with declining ocean health.  Threats to oceans include the three listed in the report above, and many more. Pollution, ocean acidification, oil and gas exploration and transport, shipping, tourism, poorly planned coastal development, and increased industrialization are all on the rise.

Unlike on land, where we are keenly aware of the need for protection, only a tiny fraction of the oceans has been protected. And even when marine areas are protected, all too often damaging activities are still permitted to continue.

The sea provides us 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.

There are signs of hope, and a paradigm shift in ocean management has begun. Here on the shores of the Pacific, we are on the leading edge of new approaches to ocean management. The integrated ecosystem-based marine spatial plans developed in a process co-led by the BC government and 18 First Nations created management zones in the ocean for the first time in Canada, and increased levels of protection. Now we need to secure lasting legal protection for these innovative Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) plans.

At WCEL, we’re working to strengthen the legal regime to safeguard the oceans that sustain us. Our work on marine conservation includes:

  • Implementing marine plans - We 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. These precedents will be useful for protection of the entire coast. A network of marine protected areas (MPAs) will be at the centre of these integrated plans. We are deeply engaged with a full range of partners – First Nations, ENGOs governments, and the fisheries sector – to explore ways to create efficient and effective legally binding MPAs.
  • Coasts that Work- The province of BC has a huge stake in healthy oceans, and exercises considerable control over ocean decisions. We are working with partners in the labour, conservation, fisheries, and local government sectors in a network called “Coasts that Work” to help define a new vision for coastal and marine management in our province, and build the case for a thriving healthy coast.
  • Fisheries and fish habitat protection- To protect fisheries, their habitat and the full range of marine biodiversity, we need strong laws. We advocate for a modern Fisheries Act.
  • Green Budget Coalition– WCEL is a member of the Green Budget Coalition, focused on costing the MPAs we are proposing, as well as restoring and increasing funding to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The aim is to ensure strong monitoring and enforcement, and to ensure that federal government spending and budget commitments reflect the full costs needed to implement integrated ocean plans and strengthen and improve ocean governance.
  • Tar sands, tankers and pipelines – Oil tankers on our north coast are proposed to service pipelines and help expand Alberta’s tar sands. The risks from these tankers are unacceptable to British Columbians. West Coast Environmental Law is working with allies to strengthen the moratorium on oil tanker traffic through legislation.


For a list of West Coast's Fish and Oceans publications, click here.