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Oceans Update Fall 2012

Oceans Update

Manmade debris has been washing up on shorelines since people invented hollow containers, but it wasn't until the invention of plastic that this began to present a hazard that has grown to monumental proportions world-wide. Plastics don't biodegrade. They have entered the food web of marine life from the tiniest plankton to the largest of whales.

In this newsletter you can read about Living Oceans' action to clear the coast of plastics and other marine debris with the able assistance of our supporters. We're also tackling some of the harder clean up issues in our home waters, like finding and removing lost fishing gear and dealing with derelict boats that are abandoned among remote northern islands. We could never accomplish this work without the dedicated support of volunteers and the in-kind contributions of partner organizations; our deepest thanks go out to all of them.

Living Oceans is also developing a plan of action for the Japanese tsunami debris that is coming our way. As much as 40 percent of it is expected to consist of plastics. The governments of Canada and B.C. have no plans to clean up the anticipated deluge. Both governments are relying on volunteer-run shoreline cleanups and voluntary reporting measures to deal with the coming wave of debris.Karen Wristen

Leaving tsumani debris to endanger coastal wildlife is simply not an option. We'll be working with all levels of government to ensure that our coast is clear!

Best regards,
Karen Wristen
Executive Director

Supertankers in Whale Channel

Watch this video to see why supertankers on the coast would threaten humpback whales, a species of “special concern” that is making a slow recovery in the North Pacific since whaling was banned in 1966.

Scientists estimate that the population is back up to about half of the size it was during the hunt. But measures to protect humpbacks are required by law to prevent them from sliding into “threatened” or “endangered” status. Although recommendations for legal protection have been drawn up, the Canadian government has not yet acted on them.

Our video uncovers the sad irony underlying government inaction: how mankind’s quest for oil, which once brought this magnificent creature to the brink of extinction, has returned to threaten its recovery. Only a century ago that we used whale oil to light our homes and lubricate our machines.

Living Oceans launches Clear the Coast

Northern Vancouver Island

Good ideas often spawn more good ideas. Take cleaning up garbage from the inter-tidal zone for instance. An ever growing mess of garbage and plastic floating around the ocean got us thinking about what we at Living Oceans could do to inspire more good work. By the time we took our thinking caps off we came up with a brand new project: Clear the Coast.

"Volunteers have removed and disposed of a serious amount of debris from the shoreline of Malcolm Island and other northern Vancouver Island locations. Some great new ideas have hatched during their outings," said Jake Etzkorn, Living Oceans' Local Marine Planner in Sointula. "One idea the beach cleaners came up with was to remove other kinds of marine debris like lost crab traps, fishing nets and lines. 'Ghost' fishing gear is a threat to ocean health because it can keep fishing and entangle all kinds of marine species."

Removing crab trapsWith generous support of the Vancouver Foundation we're turning the volunteers' brainstorm into reality. Over the summer we organized underwater clean up efforts by the Malcolm Island Lions Club whose members offered their time and equipment to locate and remove lost crab traps in Rough Bay. On Sunday, September 23 the Top Island Econauts Dive Club organized a volunteer dive at Port McNeill to clean more lost and abandoned crab traps from the bay.

We've also heard a lot of concerned talk about the large amount of tsunami debris generated from the 2011 earthquake in Japan that's expected to arrive soon on northern Vancouver Island beaches. Living Oceans is working on a wider project with local people, businesses and regional government partners to tackle the problem.

Clear the Coast will also raise the level of awareness about the harm done to marine ecosystems from abandoned, derelict vessels that can pollute our local harbours. We're studying removal and disposal options and sharing solutions with local harbour authorities and contactors to find a way make it happen.

For more information, check out Clear the Coast on our website. With help from our funders and supporters like you, and by working with local volunteers and organizations, we're turning brain waves into realities.

Living Oceans uncovers Canada’s MPA misrepresentation

Canada is misrepresenting its Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to the international community.

Kim Wright

“The majority of Canada’s Pacific protected areas are reported to offer the highest level of protection, with no commercial fishing allowed, according to the IUCN global database,” says Kim Wright, Living Oceans’ Manager of Marine Planning and Protected Areas. “Yet our inventory of  MPAs in B.C. shows that almost all allow fishing inside their boundaries.”

An updated MPA inventory was recently mapped by Living Oceans’ GIS Analyst Carrie Robb who plotted new data and counted the number of fisheries permitted inside the MPAs. This update shows more MPAs have been created on Canada’s Pacific coast, but that still less than one percent of those areas are closed to all fisheries. Little has changed in terms of real protection since our 2010 study was published in Marine Policy. Meanwhile, our work to uncover the discrepancies has been recognized by the IUCN and has helped shape its new recommendations to nations on how to better manage their MPAs.

IUCN Logo

The IUCN’s new guidance is very clear about what should and should not be allowed. 'No-take’ zones that prohibit extraction of fish or other living resources are more explicitly laid out for several IUCN categories of MPAs. And rightly so—there is a growing body of evidence that no-take MPAs increase the catch for local fisheries outside of the boundaries of the zones. Most of Canada’s Pacific MPAs should be no-take zones in order to be consistent with the IUCN guidelines.

In designing its MPAs, Canada has said it will honour its commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 10 percent of its different ocean ecosystems and habitats. To judge Canada’s progress in satisfying this commitment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is doing an inventory of all the protected areas that exist and proposals that are undergoing review and will be added soon.

On a recent trip to Ottawa, however, Kim discovered that DFO may include some areas as part of this 10 percent that don’t even meet the definition of any MPA under the new IUCN guidelines. This flies in the face of the purpose of the Convention on Biological Diversity which aims to encourage nations to create MPAs that protect rare fish and corals, endangered marine mammals and migratory birds. 

“Canada should stick to IUCN definitions for MPAs and close fishing in the MPAs categorised as ‘no-take’ zones in its reports to IUCN,” Kim says. “If Canada wants to truly claim that its MPAs contribute to the long-term goals of ocean conservation and fisheries recovery, it must at least adhere to the best practices set out by the IUCN.”

It's not surprising that Canada is grasping at straws when it comes to finding 10 percent of its ocean ecosystems in protected areas. A new study released in by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) shows that Canada has fallen from 66th place (of the 172 signatories with coastlines) with only 0.63% of its territorial waters protected in 1990, to 100th place with the nominal increase to 1.25% in 2010. Given that Canada has the longest coastline in the world, ranking 100th in coastal protection is shocking.

Hong Kong Seafood Summit

Kelly Roebuck, Living Oceans’ Sustainable Seafood Campaign Manager, flew to Hong Kong in September to represent Living Oceans at the 10th annual Seafood Summit. Hong Kong is an ideal setting to discuss how to improve seafood sustainability as Asia is a major world hub for seafood markets. In fact, it’s likely that over half of what you see in your local supermarket seafood counter was farmed or caught in Asia.

Kelly Roebuck“This international forum is where we start to solve the seafood sustainability challenges that will become even more urgent in the coming years,” said Kelly. “Living Oceans is honored to be part of the dialogue that will provide the sea change that this planet needs.”

Living Oceans’ recent collaboration with the B.C. bottom trawl fleet and the David Suzuki Foundation to protect coral and sponge habitat off our coast was a feature presentation at the Seafood Summit.

“There were people in the audience from Scotland to Australia, and they were quite impressed with the management measures we worked out with the trawlers,” Kelly said. “I overheard a lot of them say that they’d like to see similar measures happen in their waters.”

Over 700 people attended the summit from the seafood industries, conservation movements, governments and universities of 46 different countries. The summit grappled with issues ranging from illegal fisheries and aquaculture improvement to the impacts of ocean acidification on seafood supply.