Dive into Canada’s Marine Protected Areas


Did you know that coral and sponges provide important habitat for a lot of different living organisms deep in the sea?

Intertidal life (c) Neil Ever Osborne, Gwaii Haanas
Intertidal life (c) Neil Ever Osborne, Gwaii Haanas

Coral and sponges provide homes for all sorts of marine life like sea stars, sea fans, sea urchins, crustaceans, shrimp, anemones, and tons of fish!

Unfortunately, the growth rate of coral and sponges is very slow leaving them exposed to a variety of hazards like: fishing, oil and gas exploration and development, and fishing.

For this reason, countries all around the world are taking steps to protect cold-water coral and sponges. One way Canada protects corals and sponges found in all three of our oceans: Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic – is through the designation of a marine protected area.

Join us as we dive deeper into Marine Protected Areas!

Gully MPA – Photo Credit: 2006 CMB Discovery Corridor Fisheries and Oceans Canada http://www.mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Maritimes/Oceans/OCMD/Coral/Conservation-Measures

What’s a Marine Protected Area?

A marine protected area is a geographical location that is recognized, dedicated, and managed in a way to protect and conserve marine species (just like the cold-water coral), habitats, and ecosystems.

So far, the Government of Canada and provinces have protected approximately 1% of Canada’s ocean area, or more than 50,000km2…..that’s nearly the same size as the province of Nova Scotia!

Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs

Off the coast of British Columbia, one location is in the process of becoming a….you guessed it…marine protected area!

The Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs contains the largest glass sponge reef found in the world. Once thought to be extinct, the four reefs in Hecate Strait were discovered in 1987. Scientists determined the reefs were over 9000 years old and are a modern version of the massive sponge reefs that existed during the Jurassic era!

Individual sponges on the reef may live for more than 200 years. Made up of silica or glass, these sponges are quite fragile…the smallest impact could break them. Even worse, when the skeletons of these sponges are destroyed, new sponges cannot grow to add stability to the reef.

Thankfully habitats and ecosystems like the delicate sponge reefs found in the Hecate Strait will be protected once they get designated as a marine protected area!

Balancing Marine and Human Life

Another way that Canada protects marine ecosystems is through National Marine Conservation Areas.

These are managed by Parks Canada in order to create a model for sustainable use. That means protecting the ecosystem but also providing opportunities for public education and recreation such as fishing or kayaking.

Photo Credit – Explore by kayak © Parks Canada

There are currently 4 National Marine Conservation Areas, but Canada hasthe goal of representing all 29 marine regions found in Canada’s Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific oceans, and the Great Lakes.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

Further west from the Hecate Strait, you will find a beautiful area designated as a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is a 5000km² land and sea protected area. Usually called Gwaii Haanas for short, this area is known for its huge cedars and spruce trees, the rich diverse marine life, and ancient Haida villages. Evidence of humans living here dates back as far as 12,000 years ago!

Photo Credit - Woodruff Bay, a white sandy beach escape  © Parks Canada / B. Hilgemann
Photo Credit – Woodruff Bay, a white sandy beach escape
© Parks Canada / B. Hilgemann

There are over 200 islands in Gwaii Haanas and 1700km of shoreline. That’s the same as lining up 16,190 soccer fields in a row!

Gwaii Haanas means “Island of Beauty” in the Haida language. There are no roads into this special place – you can only visit Gwaii Haanas on a boat, helicopter, or float plane.

Over 20 years ago, the Government of Canada and the Council of the Haida Nations signed an agreement vowing they would work together to protect the land. It was in 2010 that Gwaii Haanas was designated as a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve… this meant that the 3500 marine species that call Gwaii Haanas home were now protected! Some of the marine species found here are:


Many marine mammals live in or migrate through Gwaii Haanas such as killer whales, humpback whales, grey whales and occasional fin whales. Dall’s porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins are often playing in the waves seen by visitors to the area.

Humback Whales, BC

The Gwaii Haanas is a very special place so we’re thrilled that its beauty and diverse marine life will continue to be protected so it can be enjoyed by many future generations!

Want to do your part to help protect marine life?

By Starting a Bring Back the Wild campaign for the Cold-Water Coral, your donations will help fund underwater surveys in Nunavut so researchers can learn how to better protect these awesome creatures!

take action now