Updates to Canada’s Oceans Act are a welcome change for ocean protection


Bill C-55, which includes important and much-needed changes to Canada’s Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act recently passed royal assent. The Oceans Act has particular significance for marine conservation, as it is Canada’s marine protection and management law. Originally passed in 1996, it guides the creation of Marine Protected Areas in Canada’s coastal and ocean waters. The changes introduced through Bill C-55 have been applauded by environmental groups across Canada as an important step for marine protection in the face of increasing risks to the marine environment brought on by climate change, pollution and industrial development.

Bill C-55 will:

  1. Protect important biodiversity areas, fast. C-55 Allows for interim protection of important ocean areas, which ensures that human impacts do not increase until  protection measures can be agreed upon by stakeholders and rightsholders. 
  2. Streamline a previously inefficient process and allow for more effective protection of the marine environment. Canada’s marine protected areas have tended to take ~6-8 years, frustrating stakeholders and rights holders, and failing to engage the Canadian public.
  3. Enshrine the ‘precautionary approach’, a key tenet of modern conservation which reinforces the duty to prevent harm in the face of scientific uncertainty. C-55 helps decision-makers do what is right for biodiversity, species at risk and valuable fish stocks by incorporating the precautionary approach and the concept of ecological integrity – both of which are critical factors in protecting the ocean.
  4. Enable the creation of marine protected area network plans, the gold standard in ocean protection.  Networks allow for connectivity between protected areas and can lead to improved biodiversity conservation, as well as allowing for the inclusion of various tools for protection within a network. 

C-55 also amends the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, which allows government to follow through on the commitment made earlier this year to prohibit oil and gas, along with other industrial activities, within MPAs. Bill C-55 is an important step on the path towards ocean protection and reflects two decades of progress in ocean law and science. These updates are an important milestone in Canada’s ocean legacy, and sets a new foundation for marine conservation in Canada. 

Photo by Nick Hawkins.