Report asks Ottawa to protect oceans

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Canada is falling badly behind other western countries in protecting its oceans, says a group of top Canadian marine scientists who are calling on the federal government to take action.

The 14 scientists, who released a report Monday at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, want new guidelines so at least 30 per cent of Canadian ocean territory can be protected from activities such as trawling and oil and gas exploration.

“Canada is way behind many other western countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, in protecting its marine ecosystems,” said Philip Dearden, University of Victoria geography professor and one of the signatories to the report.

“In our report, we offer concrete ways in which Canada can become one of the world’s leaders in ocean conservation,” he said.

Although Canada has promised a network of Marine Protected Areas and has designated some areas, such as Gwaii Haanas, the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents and Bowie Seamount areas off the coast of B.C., the vast majority of the area remains open to fishing and industrial activities.

Less than one per cent of the protected areas are offlimits to fishing, said Sabine Jessen of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which commissioned the report.

“We really do have to make a more concerted effort to protect what’s there and help bring back species,” she said.

The scientists are calling for at least 30 per cent of each bioregion in Canada’s oceans to be “no take reserves.”