Click a circle on the map to explore the marine areas that are protected by Parks Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as Areas of Interest.
This sprawling area covers about 1,800 square kilometers of the Mackenzie River Delta estuary in the Beaufort Sea and is the first Arctic marine protected area. Divided into three areas, Niaqunnaq, Okeevik and Kittigaryuit, the main goal is to preserve one of the world’s largest seasonal populations of beluga whales. They travel through the estuary each summer to feed, moult, nurture their babies and socialize. The area also preserves traditional Inuvialuit whale-hunting rights.
Three ancient volcanoes whose tips never quite breached the ocean’s surface, this part of the ocean has long been sacred to the Haida Nation and rests off the coast of Haida Gwaii. Its name in the Haida language means “supernatural being looking outward.” The uncommon underwater formation is home to rare forms of life including the ancient murrelet — plump little birds with black bibs that nest in colonies — the fearsome orca killer whales and the desperately endangered Steller sea lions.
It has been called the Galapagos Islands of Canada, an area in the Hecate Strait off the coast of British Columbia so rich in different species that it is almost its own world. Fully 3,500 square kilometers of ocean are protected, reaching 10 kilometers off shore from the Haida homeland. Humpback whales frolic here and so do orcas, minkes and grays, dolphins, porpoises and sea lions, not to mention hundreds of species of fish and many sea birds. The marine park is integrated with a terrestrial park here, meaning that it is protected from the peaks of mountains down to the bottom of the 2,500-meter continental shelf, each component reliant on the other.
Scientists thought that glass sponge reefs had gone extinct with the dinosaurs, but in 1987, some Canadian government researchers found a handful off the coast of British Columbia, the only ones known to be alive. It was roundly hailed as a miracle. They are 9,000 years old and individual sponges on the reefs, their fragile skeletons made of glass, can live for two centuries. While bottom-trawling for groundfish has been banned since 2002, scientists have found those measures are not enough to protect the unique sponges.
This stretch of cracks in the ocean’s crust may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of how life began on Earth. Set 250 kilometers off Vancouver Island, it’s where two tectonic plates are stretching apart, making new ocean floor. As the primordial heat from the Earth’s core escapes to the surface of the planet, it brings with it scorching plumes of chemicals that feed rare life forms not dependent on the sun’s energy. Just how hot can the water be and still support life? The record here is 121 degrees Celsius.
Race Rocks (XwaYeN), off the southern tip of Vancouver Island, is already an ecological reserve under British Columbia law. It’s been under consideration for federal protection since 1998 because it has swift currents and strong tides and they mean there’s lots of oxygen and food for marine creatures. A key species in need of protection is the endangered Northern abalone.
The Strait of Georgia marine region is the smallest of five marine regions found on Canada's Pacific coast, yet it is also one of the most biologically diverse. The Governments of Canada and British Columbia are currently assessing the feasibility of a national marine conservation area reserve in the southern Strait of Georgia area.
The largest lake in the world is also the largest freshwater marine park at more than 10,000 square kilometers. Set in the westernmost part of the Great Lakes, its shoals and small islands are superb breeding grounds for colonies of sea birds such as herring, ring-billed gulls, great blue heron and double-breasted cormorant. Raptors, including bald eagles, osprey and peregrine falcons, thrive on fish they snatch from the deep, cold waters.
Deep underwater caves, stunning cliffs and heart-stopping overhangs are all featured in this freshwater park at the mouth of Georgian Bay on the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario. As well, more than 20 shipwrecks are still submerged in the frigid waters.
This is where the waters of the St. Lawrence River — both salty and fresh — join with the Saguenay Fjord, making an underwater playground for 13 species of whales. They include the endangered St. Lawrence beluga — known for its white skin and chatty call – and the Atlantic population of the blue whale, the biggest animal on Earth.
This estuary is a prime feeding area for beluga whales, blue whales, fin whales and harbour seals, among many other marine mammals. That’s because it contains lots of krill and capelin, their main source of food. At the moment, the federal government is eyeing 6,000 square kilometers for protection, the beluga’s summer range.
This part of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence east of New Brunswick is an important refuge for fish, including the Atlantic cod whose numbers have crashed from overfishing. It’s here that they spend time feeding, spawning and raising their young over the summer.
This piece of coast in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy where freshwater and ocean tides routinely mix to flood the salt marshes, mud flats and cobble beaches is one of nature’s engineering wonders. It’s a filter, a sponge, a barrier and a protector, all in one. That makes it biologically fascinating, too, a place where boundaries keep shifting and living spaces change from tide to tide, making life there resilient, rich and abundant. Home to the eerie deadman’s finger sponge, beds of kelp, red-breasted merganser ducks, broad-winged hawks and a commercial fishery, it is the only estuary in the Bay of Fundy that remains relatively undamaged.
These two shelves of underwater bank separated by a ridge off the Gaspé Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have been heavily fished for many years. Now home to whales, many endangered sea creatures and several species of shellfish, the site is a candidate for protection in order to promote the recovery of species in sharp decline.
A coastal lagoon about 5 kilometers long on the tip of Prince Edward Island, it contains a type of giant red Irish moss found nowhere else on Earth.
An immensely deep undersea canyon that abruptly drops two and a half kilometers off the coast of Nova Scotia, this is one of the most distinctive geological formations on the continent’s eastern coast. Hand in hand with rare geology goes rare biology. The deepest part of the Gully is home to its own population of northern bottlenose whales, among the deepest divers in the ocean. Rare cold-water corals are perched on its slopes, some a century old. Most of its riches and depths have yet to be explored.
This area off the coast of Cape Breton is under consideration for protection because it contains a mix of living spaces for marine creatures, both shallow and deep. As well, it is a potential nursery for the Atlantic cod, whose populations collapsed in the early 1990s, and for a range of other fish whose numbers have plummeted, including American plaice, white hake, redfish and witch flounder.
A deep valley running from the St. Lawrence River to the continental shelf off the coast of Newfoundland, the channel is a candidate because it contains rare populations of feather-like soft corals called sea pens, black dogfish, smooth skate, Porbeagle shark, and the endangered Northern wolffish and Leatherback turtle.
The rugged coastline of Newfoundland’s Bonavista Bay has been a superb lobster fishing ground for generations. But a couple of decades ago, the catches began to dwindle. Fishermen pushed for a protected area where lobster could thrive without interference in the hopes that it would prove a lobster nursery for other areas. The plan succeeded.
This shallow bay on the southeast coast of Labrador is home to a rare and unique species of Atlantic cod that remain there all year round. As well, it is rich in mussels, scallops, sea urchins and some of the great swimmers in the fish world: salmon, herring, capelin. The bay features two narrow channels connecting it to the ocean, Williams Harbour Run and Winard Tickle.
This part of Darnley Bay near Paulatuk, Northwest Territories is home to the only colony of thick-billed murres in the western Canadian Arctic, famous for their raucous calls and for nesting on bare rock faces. As well, it is an important home for Arctic char, beluga whales, polar bears and ringed seals, and is a traditional hunting area for Inuvialuit.
Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic
Text: Alanna Mitchell