Canada has many rea­sons to cel­e­brate World Oceans Day

The Western Star - - CLOSE TO HOME - David Suzuki David Suzuki is a sci­en­tist, broad­caster, au­thor and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Writ­ten with con­tri­bu­tions from David Suzuki Foundation Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist Olga Shu­val­ova.

Buried un­der a late-May news bar­rage, Canada’s gov­ern­ment made small but im­por­tant changes to the Oceans Act and Pe­tro­leum Re­sources Act that will strengthen pro­tec­tion of at-risk ma­rine ecosys­tems. The most sig­nif­i­cant is that gov­ern­ment will no longer have to wait for ma­rine pro­tected area des­ig­na­tion to pre­vent harm­ful ac­tiv­i­ties, but will have the power to im­ple­ment “in­terim pro­tec­tions.”

Changes to the Pe­tro­leum Act “al­low Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada and Crown-Indige­nous Re­la­tions and North­ern Af­fairs Canada to ne­go­ti­ate the vol­un­tary sur­ren­der of a com­pany’s oil and gas in­ter­ests” and com­pen­sate com­pa­nies if ma­rine pro­tected area des­ig­na­tion means can­celling projects.

Freez­ing harm­ful ac­tiv­i­ties for up to five years will give gov­ern­ment time to con­sult with provinces, territorie­s, Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, stake­hold­ers and the pub­lic be­fore it for­mally pro­tects a ma­rine area. The changes are in line with the gov­ern­ment’s goal of pro­tect­ing 10 per cent of Canada’s ocean ter­ri­tory by next year. It has made progress, with 8.27 per cent now pro­tected, up from less than one per cent in 2015.

It’s progress worth cel­e­brat­ing on World Oceans Day, June 8. Many Cana­di­ans may not know the UN de­clared this spe­cial day at Canada’s urg­ing. With three oceans sur­round­ing the world’s long­est coast­line and more than 350,000 ocean-de­pen­dent jobs, it makes sense for Canada to hon­our and pro­tect these ecosys­tems and the tremen­dous re­sources they pro­vide. But is it too early to pat our­selves on the back?

A Green­peace study by York and Ox­ford univer­sity re­searchers ar­gues we must pro­tect at least 30 per cent of oceans by 2030, in­clud­ing ar­eas out­side ter­ri­to­rial ju­ris­dic­tion, “to ad­dress the cri­sis fac­ing our oceans and en­able their re­cov­ery.” (I be­lieve that falls short of what’s needed.) The re­port, 30×30: A Blue­print for Ocean Pro­tec­tion, shows that a network of “fully pro­tected ma­rine pro­tected ar­eas” is fea­si­ble and some­thing the world should con­sider as gov­ern­ments ne­go­ti­ate a global ocean treaty through the UN, ex­pected in 2020.

The push for greater ocean pro­tec­tion marks a grow­ing shift in our per­cep­tion of the seas, from a re­source store­house and dump­ing ground for wastes to a source of life. Oceans are vi­tal to our sur­vival and con­trib­ute to our pros­per­ity and qual­ity of life. They pro­duce more than half the world’s oxy­gen and are the largest car­bon sink. And they of­fer yet un­known po­ten­tial for med­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies.

But we know more about Mars than the im­mense scope of ocean life. We’ve only ex­plored about five per cent of the un­der­wa­ter world. Less then a half cen­tury ago, no one con­tem­plated that a mul­ti­tude of species could live around deep-sea hy­dro­ther­mal vents. Fur­ther al­ter­ing our value sys­tem to put the en­vi­ron­ment first and look out for all species’ needs will al­low us to base de­vel­op­ment de­ci­sions on rec­og­niz­ing that we ben­e­fit from main­tain­ing nat­u­ral ecosys­tems.

Be­yond Oceans Act amend­ments, Canada is also ex­am­in­ing Fish­eries Act up­dates to ad­dress in­creas­ing pol­lu­tion, ecosys­tem de­struc­tion and de­clin­ing bio­di­ver­sity. This would in­clude mea­sures to re­build fish stocks, many of which are se­verely de­pleted. Sim­i­lar action has proven suc­cess­ful in the United States. How­ever, fishing quo­tas aren’t enough, as fish face nu­mer­ous threats that only healthy, abun­dant stocks may be able to with­stand. Ma­rine pro­tected ar­eas help safe­guard the di­ver­sity and abun­dance of plants and animals in and around them, im­prov­ing their re­silience to hu­man ac­tiv­ity, cli­mate change and other, of­ten un­ex­pected, events.

We of­ten take the oceans’ gifts for granted, un­der­es­ti­mat­ing their value, re­sult­ing in dev­as­ta­tion to lo­cal economies and cul­tural val­ues. At­tempt­ing to bal­ance pri­or­i­ties be­tween the en­vi­ron­ment and the econ­omy re­quires con­stant, ex­haust­ing rene­go­ti­a­tion and com­pro­mise. The false as­sump­tion is that con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties cost more than the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of grow­ing in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity.

We must con­tinue shift­ing our per­spec­tive. We can’t con­tinue to pri­or­i­tize short-term eco­nomic ob­jec­tives over the very ecosys­tems that sus­tain us. Act­ing for our im­me­di­ate ben­e­fit can de­stroy the in­tri­cate bal­ance and put a species or even the whole ecosys­tem in peril. A sin­gle oil spill could threaten the ex­is­tence of south­ern res­i­dent or­cas.

If we care about hu­man pros­per­ity, we must pro­tect oceans. Sup­port­ing their nat­u­ral re­silience by restor­ing their bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity would de­liver long-term ben­e­fits for food se­cu­rity and so­cial and eco­nomic well-be­ing. Let’s stay the course on lead­er­ship and pro­gres­sive action on this im­por­tant is­sue.

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