Making Real Progress on Marine Protected Areas in Canada

I was in Ottawa last week discussing marine protected areas in Canada. While there, I presented a policy brief titled “Making Real Progress on Marine Protected Areas in Canada” to the All Party Ocean Caucus. The brief can be found here and the text of the policy brief follows below.


Liber Ero Fellows and Members of the All-Party Ocean Caucus, October 24, 2016, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (From left to right: MP Elizabeth May (Green), David Miller (WWF-Canada), MP Fin Donelly, Dr. Kim Davies (Dalhousie), MP Scott Simms, Dr. Nathan Bennett (UBC/UWash), Dr. Aerin Jacob (UVic), Dr. Sally Otto (UBC).

Making Real Progress on Marine Protected Areas in Canada

Creating effective and successful networks of marine protected areas in Canada requires attention to all elements of Aichi Target 11 and to international best practices for incorporating ecological, socio-economic, cultural and governance considerations.

Federal government ministerial mandate letters 2015, DFO: “Work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to increase the proportion of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected – to five percent by 2017, and ten percent by 2020 – supported by new investments in community consultation and science.”

Convention on Biological Diversity, Aichi Target 11: “By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.”


Ecologically significant areas in the Great Bear Sea. Photo credit: Ian McAllister/Pacificwild ( – Used with permission.

As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada is striving to achieve the ambitious goal of 10% coverage of coastal and marine areas in networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. Key points to ensure that MPA networks are effective and successful are summarized below:

  1. More than just area – Aichi Target 11 focuses on more than just the amount of area protected (i). Creating ecologically effective MPA networks also requires attention to: representation of all habitats, inclusion of unique and biologically significant areas, connectedness, and consideration of biodiversity and ecosystem service values (ii).
  2. Management effectiveness – Only 24% of protected areas are managed effectively globally (iii). Effective management requires adequate government funding, capacity and enforcement. Ongoing research programs are also needed to monitor and evaluate social and ecological outcomes and guide adaptive management (iv).
  3. Integrated ocean and coastal planning – The overall success and effectiveness of MPAs increases when integrated into a broader system of marine and coastal management that takes into account multiple stressors and promotes actions to mitigate the impacts of development (v).
  4. Socio-economic and cultural considerations – Aichi Target 11 requires that MPAs are “equitably managed” which requires that social, economic and cultural considerations are factored into planning and management. In particular, there is a need to understand and balance the social and economic impacts of MPAs for different stakeholders during network planning and to incorporate cultural considerations and Aboriginal peoples’ rights into management plans (vi).
  5. Good governance – Good governance during planning, implementation and management is a key to the success of conservationvii. This means that decision-making processes and co-management structures need to be inclusive, participatory and transparent and respectful of the preferential rights of Aboriginal peoples and right relationships with First Nations’ governments (vii).
  6. “Other effective area-based conservation measures” (OEACBM) – What counts as an OEABCM needs to be clearly defined in the spirit of the Aichi target and in alignment with all the elements listed above (viii). This means that managed areas that benefit only one species or habitat should not be considered equivalent to a marine protected area. Consideration should also be given to other governance models that effectively conserve biodiversity, including Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas and Tribal Parks (ix).

Currently, MPAs cover 1.1% of Canada’s oceans (x)

Getting from 1.1% (497,600km2) to the milestone of 10% is a significant challenge that will require collaboration between multiple levels of government and different jurisdictions. For example, MPAs fall under the authority of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks and Environment & Climate Change Canada. To facilitate the achievement of the targets the government is advised to build on past and ongoing marine planning process of provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments, such as the Marine Plan Partnership, First Nations Marine Planning, the PNCIMA process and the Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA planning process (xi)



Fishing boat on the Pacific Coast of Canada. Photo credit: Natalie Ban. Used with permission.

  • Ensure that all elements of Aichi Target 11 are taken into account when planning MPA networks in Canada.
  • Incorporate lessons from global experiences of creating MPAs related to effective management, good governance and integrated planning
  • Account for social, economic and cultural considerations in planning and management of MPAs.
  • Develop adequate co-management structures and decision-making processes that include First Nations as equal partners.
  • Support multi-jurisdictional collaboration and build on previous initiatives.
  • Ensure that MPA planning and management is guided by both natural and social science. Implement monitoring and evaluation to guide adaptive management.

Prepared by Dr. Nathan Bennett (University of British Columbia) and Dr. Natalie Ban (University of Victoria) with input from members of the OceanCanada Partnership ( Please contact us should you wish further information: and

(i) Spalding, M. et al. Building towards the marine conservation end-game: consolidating the role of MPAs in a future ocean. Aquatic Cons 26, 185–199 (2016).

(ii) Jessen, S. et al. Science Based Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas and Marine Protected Area Networks in Canada. 58 (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, 2011).

(iii) Leverington, F. & et al. Management effectiveness evaluation in protected areas – a global study (2nd ed). (U of Queensland, 2010).

(iv) Pomeroy, R. S., Parks, J. E. & Watson, L. M. How is your MPA doing?: A guidebook of natural and social indicators for evaluating marine protected area management effectiveness. (IUCN, 2004).

(v) Nowlan, L. Brave New Wave: Marine Spatial Planning & Ocean Regulation on Canada’s Pacific. J. of Env Law Prac 29, 151–198 (2016).

(vi) Rodríguez-Rodríguez, D., Rees, S. E., Rodwell, L. D. & Attrill, M. J. IMPASEA: A methodological framework to monitor and assess the socioeconomic effects of marine protected areas. Env Sci Pol 54, 44–51 (2015); Ban, N. C. et al. A social–ecological approach to conservation planning: embedding social considerations. Front Ecol Env 11, 194–202 (2013).

(vii) Bennett, N. J. & Dearden, P. From measuring outcomes to providing inputs: Governance, management, and local development for more effective marine protected areas. Mar Poli 50, 96–110 (2014).; Burt, J.M., et al. 2015. Marine Protected Area Network Design Features that Support Resilient Human-Ocean Systems. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada.

(viii) Mackinnon, D. et al. 2015. Canada and Aichi Biodiversity Target 11: understanding ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ in the context of the broader target. Biodiversity and Conservation 24:3559-3581; DFO. Guidance on identifying ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ in Canadian coastal and marine waters. (DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, 2016).

(xi) See:;; Wilson, P., McDermott, L., Johnston, N. & Hamilton, M. An Analysis of Intenational Law, National Legislation, Judgements, and Institutions as they Interrelate with Territories and Areas Conserved by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities – Report No 8. Canada. (Natural Justice, 2012).

(x) Data:; Visualization:


Communities and social-ecological change in the anthropocene

Check out my latest article – titled “Communities and change in the anthropocene: understanding social-ecological vulnerability and planning adaptations to multiple interacting exposures” – with Jessica Blythe, Stephen Tyler and Natalie Ban just published in Regional Environmental Change. This OPEN ACCESS article can be downloaded from here or online at REC.


Abstract: The majority of vulnerability and adaptation scholarship, policies and programs focus exclusively on climate change or global environmental change. Yet, individuals, communities and sectors experience a broad array of multi-scalar and multi-temporal, social, political, economic and environmental changes to which they are vulnerable and must adapt. While extensive theoretical—and increasingly empirical—work suggests the need to explore multiple exposures, a clear conceptual framework which would facilitate analysis of vulnerability and adaptation to multiple interacting socioeconomic and biophysical changes is lacking. This review and synthesis paper aims to fill this gap through presenting a conceptual framework for integrating multiple exposures into vulnerability analysis and adaptation planning. To support applications of the framework and facilitate assessments and comparative analyses of community vulnerability, we develop a comprehensive typology of drivers and exposures experienced by coastal communities. Our results reveal essential elements of a pragmatic approach for local-scale vulnerability analysis and for planning appropriate adaptations within the context of multiple interacting exposures. We also identify methodologies for characterizing exposures and impacts, exploring interactions and identifying and prioritizing responses. This review focuses on coastal communities; however, we believe the framework, typology and approach will be useful for understanding vulnerability and planning adaptation to multiple exposures in various social-ecological contexts.

Figure 1 - Conceptual framework for understanding community social-ecological vulnerability to multiple interacting exposures

Figure 1 – Conceptual framework for understanding community social-ecological vulnerability to multiple interacting exposures

Citation: Bennett, N. J., Blythe, J., Tyler, S., & Ban, N. C. (2015). Communities and change in the anthropocene: understanding social-ecological vulnerability and planning adaptations to multiple interacting exposures. Regional Environmental Change, online.

What is environmental governance?

Environmental governance is a topic that has received a fair amount of attention in the academic and applied literatures on conservation and environmental management in the last few years. However, there remains a significant amount of confusion about what governance is, how governance is different than management, and what topics and questions governance scholars examine. In this open access extended review in the journal Conservation Biology, I provide answers to these questions while reviewing Peter Jones’ book “Governing Marine Protected Areas: Resilience through Diversity“. Excerpts from the text of “Governing marine protected areas in an interconnected and changing world” follow below.

What is governance?  – “Governance is an umbrella term that refers to the structures, institutions (i.e., laws, policies, rules, and norms), and processes that determine who makes decisions, how decisions are made, and how and what actions are taken and by whom.”

How does governance differ from management? – “Although the umbrella of governance facilitates (or undermines) effective environmental management, it can be differentiated from management as the resources, plans, and actions that result from the functioning of governance (Lockwood 2010). The objectives of both environmental governance and management are to steer, or change, individual behaviors or collective actions and, ultimately, to improve environmental and societal outcomes. Without good governance combined with effective management, [environmental management and conservation initiatives] are unlikely to succeed socially or ecologically (Bennett & Dearden 2014).”

What topics do environmental governance scholars examine? – “Scholarship on environmental governance has grown significantly over the last few decades, ranging in ecological scale from individual species (e.g., whales) to resources or ecosystems (e.g., forests, coral reefs) to global concerns (e.g., climate, oceans). Specific policy realms (e.g., fisheries, agriculture, or MPAs) are also the subject of governance analyses and planning. Environmental governance studies focus on 2 central and interrelated areas: governance design and implementation and governance performance…Environmental governance can be evaluated either or simultaneously on whether processes are fair and legitimate and whether outcomes are socially equitable or ecologically sustainable…Disagreement remains about whether outputs of governance analyses should be descriptive or prescriptive.”

What questions do environmental governance scholars explore? – “Questions and ideas that have been taken up by environmental governance scholars…[include]: How are individual and collective behaviors shaped by different governance institutions? What is the ideal governance structure for managing people and resources: community based, top down, or comanagement? How and why do governance institutions change and to what effect? What decision-making processes are more socially acceptable and lead to better ecological outcomes? What are the roles of different actors and organizations (e.g., governments, NGOs, private sector, local stakeholders, and resource users) in shaping governance processes and determining outcomes? How can governance address interconnected social-ecological systems and interactions across ecological, social, and institutional scales? How can governance be designed to fit different sociopolitical and ecological contexts? What limits are placed on governance by different social, political, and ecological factors? What norms or ideals (e.g., transparency, accountability, trust) should guide governance? What is the appropriate scale for governance to occur? How can collaboration and cooperation be facilitated most effectively? How can governance be designed to be stable and also to adapt to mounting social and ecological changes and unpredictable circumstances? These are not merely academic concerns. Insights provided by answers to these questions would help in the formulation of appropriate, acceptable, and supportive environmental governance policies and processes, enabling more effective management and ultimately enhancing…social and ecological outcomes.”

The full text of the article can be downloaded from the blue links below:

Bennett, N. J. (2015). Governing marine protected areas in an interconnected and changing world. Conservation Biology, 29(1), 303–306. [OPEN ACCESS]

Ocean Grabbing: Robbing Small Scale Fishers and Coastal Communities of Marine Resources or Spaces

The following open access article on Ocean Grabbing has just been published in Marine Policy: Bennett, N. J., Govan, H., & Satterfield, T. (2015). Ocean grabbingMarine Policy57, 61–68

Dark TrawlerHighlights:

  • Ocean grabbing refers to acts of dispossession or appropriation of marine resources or spaces.
  • Ocean grabbing robs fishers and communities of use, control or access to resources, land or the sea.
  • This paper presents a framework to evaluate conservation or development initiatives for ocean grabbing.
  • Three factors, governance, human security and well-being, determine what constitutes ocean grabbing.
  • A systematic program of research into the phenomenon of ocean grabbing is proposed.

Abstract: The term “ocean grabbing” has been used to describe actions, policies or initiatives that deprive small-scale fishers of resources, dispossess vulnerable populations of coastal lands, and/or undermine historical access to areas of the sea. Rights and access to marine resources and spaces are frequently reallocated through government or private sector initiatives to achieve conservation, management or development objectives with a variety of outcomes for different sectors of society. This paper provides a definition and gives examples of reallocations of marine resources or spaces that might constitute “ocean grabbing”. It offers a tentative framework for evaluating whether marine conservation, management or development is ocean grabbing and proposes an agenda for future research. For a reallocation to be considered ocean grabbing, it must: (1) occur by means of inadequate P1020882governance, and (2) be implemented using actions that undermine human security and livelihoods, or (3) produce impacts that reduce social–ecological well-being. Future research on ocean grabbing will: document case studies, drivers and consequences; conduct spatial and historical analyses; and investigate solutions. The intent is to stimulate rigorous discussion and promote systematic inquiry into the phenomenon of ocean grabbing.

The publication can be downloaded from here or here.