marine exrinctions

M A Jones jones118 at
Fri Jun 9 00:24:28 MDT 2000

Awash in a sea of troubles
We're facing a wave of marine extinctions
if we don't reverse the damage to our oceans,
warns former fisheries minister John Fraser
John Fraser

Thursday, June 8, 2000

It has been almost two centuries since the poet Lord Byron penned these

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue

ocean -- roll!

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee

in vain;

Man marks the earth with ruin -- his


Stops with the shore.
If only the poet had been right. We find ourselves marking the ninth World
Oceans Day today amid news of an impending freshwater crisis, and of the
shocking decline of both freshwater and saltwater fish stocks. Today, the
seven seas that cover more than 70 per cent of our planet have never faced a
greater threat.

Unfortunately, far more than 10,000 fishing and whaling fleets have swept
the oceans since Byron's time, putting hundreds of species at risk of
extinction. The ruin that Byron already saw on land in 1812 has extended
into every watery corner of the globe. From mercury poisoning to the dumping
of radioactive waste, the oceans have been continually and thoughtlessly
used as a dumping ground for the disposal of dangerous materials.

Canada has a critical international role to play in reversing the
degradation of the sea and protecting the creatures that live in it. After
all, we possess the longest coastline in the world -- nearly 244,000
kilometres. As well, we have the second-largest continental shelf -- 3.7
million square kilometres -- of any country. The marine environment we are
responsible for covers an area of approximately five million square
kilometres -- equivalent to 53 per cent of Canada's land area. And it's not
just the size of our marine area that's so impressive. About 1,100 species
of fish are found in our Canadian waters, as well as a wide variety of
marine mammals.

And many of them are in trouble. The Committee on the Status of Endangered
Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) -- the scientific body responsible for
determining species at risk -- lists more than 50 marine-associated species
as extinct, endangered, threatened or vulnerable. Included on the endangered
list are beluga, bowhead and northern right whales. The harbour porpoise,
sea otter, humpback whale, and beluga (eastern Hudson Bay population) are
regarded as threatened.

At the same time, both the Atlantic cod fishery and the Pacific salmon
fishery have been reporting dramatic shortages. Up and down the coastal
communities, these shortages have led to closures, people being thrown out
of work, and economic uncertainty. We're now living with the cumulative
negative effects of decades of both land-based and maritime sources of
pollution. Clearly, much needs to be done -- and as soon as possible.

One of the most important and achievable goals is something the World
Wildlife Fund is working on with Canada and more than other 100 countries:
the creation of an international system of ecologically representative
"marine protected areas." Marine protected areas are a relatively recent
concept. It was at the first World Conference on National Parks in 1962 that
the need for protection of coastal and marine areas was recognized

What's the point of these areas? We need them to safeguard endangered
species; to protect marine biodiversity and ecosystems; to protect and
restore essential fisheries areas, including key breeding and migration
sites; to sustain important commercial and local fisheries and to reduce
conflicts between different marine-environment users.

In the past three decades, we've seen more than 1,300 protected areas
established in more than 80 countries, ranging in size from just a few
hundred square metres to the largest and best known, the Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park in Australia, which covers 339,750 square kilometres.

In the eyes of WWF Canada, legitimate marine protected areas are places that
do not permit industrial activities or commercial resource extraction to
disturb habitat on a large scale -- although they may allow certain fishing
practices. But there should not be dredging, mining, oil or gas development,
drilling, bottom trawling, dumping, dragging, "finfish" aquaculture or any
other activity that severely jeopardizes the protected area's ecological
integrity. The use of different regulatory zones within an area means that
some areas would be "no-take" (prohibiting all fishing), while other areas
could be zoned for multiple use, including tourism, recreation and limited

There's much work to do. Only three of the marine protected areas
established so far in Canada -- Fathom Five National Marine Park in Ontario,
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in B.C. and Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine
Park in Quebec -- meet the WWF Canada guidelines.

Still, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has committed itself
to creating a network of protected areas. The necessary legal and
legislative mechanisms are in place. The 1997 Oceans Act commits the
government to co-ordinate an overall protected-area network, and Parks
Canada is set to pass new legislation to help establish Marine Conservation
Areas in each of 29 marine regions throughout Canada.

We are making some progress: The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has
named five "pilot" protected areas, including the Sable Gully off the East
Coast, and Race Rocks on the West Coast. Parks Canada has launched
consultation processes regarding potential areas in the southern Gulf
Islands and Gwaii Haanas in B.C., and western Lake Superior in Ontario.

Now's the time for federal and provincial governments, first nations, the
fishing industry, sports fishermen, the tourism industry and other
stakeholders to recognize the need for marine protected areas and work
co-operatively to ensure Canada protects marine biodiversity.

Speaking of the challenge ahead, the great oceanographer and
environmentalist Jacques Cousteau once said, "What we human beings are all
living now, whether we are volunteers or not, is an extraordinary, but
exceptionally dangerous adventure. And we have a very small number of years
left to fail or to succeed in providing a sustainable future to our
species." Otherwise, our capacity to mark the Earth with ruin will not stop
at the shore.
John Fraser is a former federal minister of fisheries and is currently chair
of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. He is also an
honorary director and special adviser to World Wildlife Fund Canada.
Mark Jones

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