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Shipping in Protected Areas

Freighter at Deltaport, BC (Photo: Michael Chu)

The Pacific coast is home to important marine shipping routes, transporting many goods and services that we use in our daily lives. And the number of ships transiting Canadian waters and calling in at west coast ports is on the rise.

This increase in shipping traffic means increased risks and potential impacts to marine ecosystems and species. Some risks from shipping include vessel strikes to marine mammals, underwater noise pollution and, of course, oil spills.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are one tool available to mitigate stressors from human activities on important areas of the ocean. And, while certain activities such as fishing or oil and gas resource extraction are often focuses of MPA discussions, shipping is often not addressed at all – in part due to complexity in the regulation of these activities, which are subject to a number of international and national laws.

West Coast is working with partners at WWF-Canada and East Coast Environmental Law to identify the legal tools that we already have to regulate shipping in MPAs, and to understand where Canada’s laws could be stronger and better. This analysis has never been done before in Canada, and is sorely needed to make sure that MPAs are true safe havens for marine life to recover.

In recent years, federal laws have seen several changes that will help improve Canada’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills and other shipping-related impacts – including the new Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, and recent amendments to the Canada Shipping Act.

In addition, the federal government has used special legal tools to address shipping impacts on endangered species. For example, the Minister of Transport issued a Ministerial order under the Canada Shipping Act to protect the Salish Sea’s southern resident killer whales. This order establishes no-go zones within their critical habitat, and prohibits vessels from approaching within 400m of the at-risk whales.

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Photo credit: Michael Chu