Protected Areas

According to Environment Canada, protected areas are: lands and waters where development and use is restricted by legal or other means for the conservation of nature. Based on internationally recognized definitions, protected areas are classified according to their management objective. Limited development and industrial activity does occur in some cases. As of 2011, 94% of protected lands in Canada were in ‘strictly protected’ categories.”

Atlantic Canada has a rich natural history with beautiful wilderness and coastlines. Protecting ecologically significant areas (i.e. EBSAs ) from degradation benefits not only the habitats being protected, but also human populations. Water filtration, clean air, carbon storage, replenished fish stocks, research and tourism are some of the many economic and social benefits of protected areas.

There are three legislated types of federal protected areas in Canada; those under the Oceans Act (and Fisheries and Oceans Canada), those under Environment Canada and those under Parks Canada. Typically, protected areas are established to protect habitats and the species within those habitats, some of which may be species at riskMarine protected areas (MPAs) , for example, are established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) under the Oceans Act to protect and conserve important fish and marine mammal habitats, endangered marine species, unique features and areas of high biological productivity or biodiversity (also see Federal MPA Strategy ).

Throughout Canadian waters, human usage of marine environments can be widespread and diverse. Rather than eliminating all human usage, National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCA) may be created to ensure that human use remains sustainable and does not threaten or overtax the environment (activities such as oil/gas exploration, dumping, and mining are prohibited) . NMCAs can also contain smaller zones of higher protection within them (e.g. MPAs). Other protected areas in Canada include Migratory Bird SanctuariesNational Wildlife Areas and Marine Wildlife Areas.

In addition to natural significance, protected areas may be established based on their cultural significance – as is the case in many national parks and heritage sites. There are several NGOs that focus on and advocate for the establishment of protected areas in Atlantic Canada. As of 2011, 9.9% (991 482 km2) of Canada’s land area and about 0.70% (49 333 km2) of its marine territory have been protected (Source: Environment Canada).

According to the Government of Canada Species at Risk Public Registry, a species at risk is one that is “an extirpated, endangered, threatened species, or a species of special concern.” The number of plants and animals designated as a species at risk in Canada is 345 and the list is growing. The reasons can be as varied and complex as the species themselves, however, many reasons are the result from human activity. Plants, animals and microorganisms are essential to the natural processes that keep the Earth’s atmosphere, climate, landscape and water in balance. They help ensure our health and economic prosperity – now and for the future. This is why the Government of Canada introduced the Species at Risk Act to protect endangered and threatened species and the spaces they need to flourish.

Source: Environment Canada


Federal Species at Risk Act

Effective since 2004, the Government of Canada passed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to respond to species at risk. According to Parks Canada, SARA has three main goals:

  • to prevent endangered or threatened species from becoming extinct or extirpated; 
  • to help in the recovery of endangered, threatened and extirpated species; and
  • to manage species of special concern to help prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened. 

For the full act and related documents, including the registry listing process, check out the SARA information page from the Species at Risk Public Registry.


Status and Listing

Species status may differ nationally and provincially as there are different processes and criteria in place for assessment. Nationally, species are first assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Upon their recommendations, species and their risk status are incorporated into the Species at Risk Public Registry.


Provincial Species at Risk

The Atlantic provinces each have information pages concerning species at risk in their province, including provincial legislation and lists of species:

New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador

Nova Scotia

Prince Edward Island


Recovery Strategies and Plans

When wildlife species are listed under the Species at Risk Act as endangered or threatened, recovery strategies and action plans must be created. Recovery strategies are written by recovery teams made up of technical experts from universities, conservation groups, industry and government. These teams review information on each species and also consider the larger ecosystem in which those species reside. If necessary, the strategies can be expanded to include protections for entire ecosystems and not just individual species. Action plans are created once recovery strategies are complete. They summarize projects and activities to meet recovery strategy objectives and goals, and include information on habitat, details of protection measures, and evaluations of socio-economic costs and benefits.

Source: Department of Fisheries and Oceans – Aquatic Species at Risk

Baseline and Targets

Globally, approximately 13% of terrestrial surface and 6% of territorial marine surface is protected. The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is a comprehensive global spatial dataset on marine and terrestrial protected areas. provides a user-friendly interactive map to browse and learn about protected areas from around the world.


The parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) set a new target in October 2010, to set aside 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters and at least 10% of marine areas, by 2020. Canada, as a signatory to the convention, is contributing to this global target (Source: Environment Canada). The CBD Program of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA) offers online courses and learning materials about protected areas, their management, planning and more.

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