The math behind ocean protection targets in Canada doesn’t add up

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Graphic by Kash Patel

Laurier assistant professor in geography and environmental studies Christopher Lemieux has taken his research skills beyond the classroom as he has been investigating Canada’s commitment to keep their oceans clean and protected.

Canada agreed to protect 17 per cent of all land and 10 per cent of all marine areas by the year 2020, as part of agreeing with the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity to increase the rates of protection.

Canada has been primarily focusing on Aichi Target, the Goal A group which consists of five targets, although there are 20 different focussed targets within the convention to protect the earth, though Canada only signed onto 18.

“With the recent government – the Liberals and their platform for being voted in years ago – they included environmental protection in their platforms,” Lemieux said.

“Given that Canada used to be a leader in conservation and we have some of the largest intact ecosystems remaining in Canada like the Boreal Forest, and on the marine side we don’t have a lot of protected areas, but we have the knowledge on how we should plan and establish them.”

The problem with this protection is that Canada has seemingly increased their protected areas in no time at all, and Lemieux has found the reason for the math being so fishy.

“What we found is through this commitment, was that under the Trudeau government we went from less than one per cent to seven and a half overnight. Right now, we have 10 per cent of our land protected, and that took 120 years,” Lemieux said.

“What most of these marine protected areas are actually is fisheries closures, so the government is converting already established fisheries closures, so areas that in some parts have already been exhausted of some biodiversity, species like lobster and scallops, which is not beneficial as you want to protect whole ecosystems that species depend on.”

Though there has been much irreversible damage done to this country and the earth by human activity, future generations will be the ones responsible for protecting what is left of the earth, and ensuring they are implementing proper procedures and people is key.

The problem with the Canadian government’s approach to protect their land and marine life is that they focus on quantity over quality; instead of ensuring that Canadian oceans are protected for years to come, they instead have closed down establishments that in some cases have already been overfished and are not protecting any biodiversity.

“Some of them are called conservation areas, but for the most part they are labelled as closures, and there’s often very distinct species, like protecting species. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed them essentially because they were overfished and exhausted of a resource, so whether or not they should count towards these biodiversity targets is another question,” Lemieux said.

The targets are not just zoning in on marine and land protection, but there are also other environmental priorities like better understanding how to adapt to climate change and acknowledging the materials of those in Aboriginal communities and the maintenance of such.

“When you think about a protected area, you think hands off, very minimal activity, and this is pretty misleading to the public, and in Canada we often adopt a single species management approach in our oceans and it hasn’t really worked,” Lemieux said.

Lemieux’s research however is questioning the integrity to long-term conservation of these areas and protecting the earth for future generations, as Canada seems to be moving towards meeting their goal by 2020 as easily as possible instead of doing it sustainably.

“They didn’t adhere to any science-based guidelines. They didn’t consult with the Canadian public very well. So the question here is are they doing it right, are they doing it for the effective long-term conservation of biodiversity, and this is really what Canadians want?” Lemieux said.

Though there has been much irreversible damage done to this country and the earth by human activity, future generations will be the ones responsible for protecting what is left of the earth, and ensuring they are implementing proper procedures and people is key.

“Your best option is always to participate in politics and vote, and the best thing you can do is vote for the right people who are concerned, and the parties who have a concern about the environment.”

“It’s kind of sad to say these issues are popping up now because the Trudeau government had a pretty strong conservation mandate, and the previous government weren’t very supportive of environmental conservation,” he said.

“Vote for parties that have a conservation ethic, or a more of a sustainable long term, and they take the long term into account and aren’t just focussed on the short-term gains.”

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