Report to Canadians: Investing in our coasts through the Oceans Protection Plan

In 2016, the Government of Canada launched the comprehensive, national, $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan. Learn what has been done and is being done under the plan to help keep our waters and coasts safe and clean, for today’s use and for future generations.

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About the Oceans Protection Plan

Canada has the longest coastline in the world. Our coasts are home to Canadian fisheries, attract tourism, support coastal communities’ livelihoods and Indigenous communities’ cultures and ways of life, and play a key role in growing the Canadian economy. They enable the export of our goods overseas and the import of foreign goods into Canada. For all these reasons and more, Canadians need confidence that marine shipping is taking place in a way that is safe, protects Indigenous rights, and sustains the economic, environmental, social, and cultural health of our oceans and coasts.

The Government of Canada has a strong system in place to protect the environment and is committed to the protection of our coasts and waterways.. To further improve our marine safety system, the federal government launched the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan in 2016. This represents the largest investment the Government of Canada has ever made to protect our coasts and waterways. This funding is ensuring our oceans are cleaner, healthier and safer now and for future generations.

World-leading marine safety system

Canada’s marine safety system is designed to respond efficiently to oil spills along Canada’s coasts, the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway and select inland waters. Through the Oceans Protection Plan, we are advancing our world-leading marine safety system to better prevent and respond to oil spills that is based on scientific evidence, technology, and Indigenous knowledge.

Marine safety upgrades focused on prevention

To improve our marine safety system and prevent marine incidents, we have:

  • implemented an Interim Anchorages Protocol to more evenly distribute vessels at anchor along the south coast of British Columbia, and introduced voluntary measures to reduce noise and light pollution from vessels
  • received and recorded comments about anchorages from coastal communities for further consideration in the development of Canada’s national Anchorages initiative
  • delivered modern and improved hydrography and charting in key areas of high traffic commercial ports and waterways to improve navigation safety
  • partnered with 10 coastal communities on a one-year pilot project at nine pilot sites for a new user-friendly maritime awareness information system that will increase access to local maritime information – including vessel traffic – and enhance marine safety for Indigenous partners, coastal communities and stakeholders
  • conducted a review of the Pilotage Act, which governs marine pilotage activities in Canada, to support the delivery of safe, and efficient marine pilotage services into the future
  • delivered the final report of the independent review of the Pilotage Act to the Minister, that include 38 recommendations
  • proposed legislative amendments to the Pilotage Act, that will modernize the Act and strengthen the integrity of Canada’s pilotage framework
  • Amended the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and the Marine Liability Act to strengthen marine environmental protection and response, including:
    • enhancing safeguards to protect marine ecosystems, including marine mammals, from the impacts of shipping and navigation activities
    • strengthening the Canadian Coast Guard’s authorities to support a more proactive, rapid, and effective response to ship-source pollution incidents
    • modernizing Canada’s Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund, including making unlimited compensation available to responders and victims of a ship-source oil spills
  • improved weather services for mariners, including installing buoys with weather instruments in high-risk areas like ports, harbours and busy shipping lanes
  • announced details for eight additional radar sites in Atlantic Canada and off the coast of British Columbia to improve coastal coverage and better track marine traffic
A vessel is guided into harbour in Vancouver by the Pilotage Authority

As well, we have:

  • proposed the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act to prohibit oil tankers from stopping, loading or unloading large quantities of crude or persistent oil products in northern British Columbia
  • introduced new Arctic Shipping Safety and Pollution Prevention Regulations to address the unique hazards encountered by vessels that operate in the Arctic and implemented in Canada the International Maritime Organization’s International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (known as the Polar Code)
  • created a permanent Canadian mission at the International Maritime Organization to strengthen Canada’s ability to follow, influence and lead internationally on marine safety, security and environmental issues
  • extended the Canadian Coast Guard’s annual Arctic operational season to support mariners both earlier and later in the navigation season
  • expanded the Canadian Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue program, through training programs to better support our northern coastal communities
  • significantly increased aerial surveillance of our Arctic waters under the National Aerial Surveillance Program to help identify and prevent marine pollution
  • secured land in Iqaluit, Nunavut for the construction of an aircraft hangar to further support extended Arctic National Aerial Surveillance Program operations
  • completed the first call-for-proposals targeted at the governments of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to improve community sea lift and resupply, and announced a contribution of $19.5 million to the Government of the Northwest Territories for four double-hulled barges, which will be used for community resupply in the Arctic

Marine safety upgrades focused on response

Fundamental to a world-leading marine safety system is the Government of Canada’s ability to provide 24/7 command and control for marine incidents, and ensuring an efficient and effective emergency response. Through the Oceans Protection Plan, we are strengthening our systems to lead marine emergency response and ensure the necessary coordination to increase protection of our coastal environments and Canadians at sea.

To improve our ability to respond to marine incidents, we have:

  • in partnership with the Haida Nation on B.C.’s West Coast, revised a regional plan for places of refuge around Haida Gwaii, ensuring that ships in need of assistance have a pre-surveyed location to:
    • stabilize their condition
    • reduce the hazards to navigation, human life and the environment
  • enhanced our response capacity for marine incidents by staffing 24/7 personnel and implemented an incident command system
  • modernized infrastructure at 100 marine communications and traffic services remote sites located across Canada, to provide better coverage and communications with mariners in remote areas
  • opened new Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue stations in Victoria, British Columbia and St. Anthony, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • announced new search and rescue stations for Twillingate and Old Perlican, Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Tahsis, British Columbia, with other new stations planned for the areas of Hartley Bay and Port Renfrew in British Columbia.
  • reopened the Canadian Coast Guard’s Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland to better coordinate on-the-water responses to marine incidents
  • opened a new seasonal Inshore Rescue Boat Station in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, to expand local search and rescue coverage and reduce response times to incidents in local waters. This is the first station to be staffed by Indigenous students hired by the Canadian Coast Guard
Aerial view of the pristine coastlines in Haida Gwaii

As well, we have:

  • worked with members of Indigenous communities on the West Coast to deliver training on marine search and rescue and environmental response, to build on the essential role these community members already play in marine safety in local waters.
  • started a student recruitment initiative targeted to secondary and post-secondary institutions to fill the need for trained and skilled response officers for the Environmental Response Program
  • leased two emergency offshore towing vessels for operations off the coast of British Columbia
  • acquired emergency tow kits for large Canadian Coast Guard vessels to strengthen our ability to tow large disabled vessels
  • created four Primary Environmental Response Teams, including one in Port Hardy, British Columbia, to strengthen the Canadian Coast Guard’s on-scene capacity during marine pollution incidents
  • invested in new, modern environmental response equipment for the Canadian Coast Guard across Canada, and took delivery of the first shipments of equipment for the West Coast
  • participated in the first-ever global action aimed at ending maritime pollution crime, an INTERPOL-led exercise code called Operation 30 Days at Sea
    • The collaborative efforts of 276 law enforcement and environmental agencies across 58 countries found more than 500 offences around the world through this initiative

Preservation and restoration of marine ecosystems

Through the Oceans Protection Plan, we are preserving and restoring marine ecosystems that are vulnerable to marine activities. We are also developing and investing in activities to protect marine mammals. We are reducing the impact of day-to-day vessel traffic on marine mammals by using sound science and local knowledge of waters provided by Indigenous communities and other coastal residents. We are hiring more fishery officers to support lead responders and provide enforcement during marine mammal incidents. As well, we are increasing our surveillance of marine protected areas.

To preserve and restore our marine ecosystems, we have:
  • to date funded 40 projects to restore coastal aquatic habitats through the Coastal Restoration Fund. These projects will reduce stressors affecting marine life and their habitats and establish long-term health of aquatic coastal habitats
    • For example, to date, a total of over $20M has been committed to support 14 projects across British Columbia to help restore coastal aquatic habitats that will benefit a number of key species such as Chinook salmon, and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale
  • collected baseline information on marine birds, including:
    • 7,000 km of coastal aerial imagery
    • more than 1,200 km of open sea survey data
    • an assessment of current diluted bitumen and contaminant exposure
    • studies to understand marine habitat use and sensitivities of seabird colonies across the North Coast of British Columbia
  • announced funding for 139 projectsunder the Abandoned Boats Program, consisting of:
    • 87 boat removal assessments and 44 removal and disposal projects
    • five education and awareness projects
    • three research projects
  • announced funding under the Small Craft Harbours Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels Removal Program to assess and remove abandoned vessels from small craft harbours across Canada, including:
    • 23 projects for vessel removal and disposal projects
    • 11 projects to get legal possession of a vessel
  • funded new science to develop and test technologies able to detect the presence of marine mammals, including whales. For example:
    • provided funding to WHaLE, a project to develop a real-time whale alert system for mariners, which will inform measures to help reduce whale and ship collisions in Canadian waters
  • introduced the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, which received Royal Assent in February 2019. It protects our coastlines and shorelines by:
    • regulating abandoned or hazardous vessels and wrecks in Canadian waters
    • recognizing the responsibility and liability of vessel owners
  • began work on a risk assessment methodology for hundreds of vessels across Canada’s coasts, which will help the Canadian Coast Guard assess the level of risk these vessels pose to the environment, the economy, and public safety, and help determine a plan for remediation

As well, we have:

  • dedicated more than 11,000 hours by fishery officers since April 2018 to support responses to marine mammals incidents, and more than 5,500 hours monitoring marine-protected areas
  • devoted more than 850 hours under the Fisheries Aerial Surveillance Enforcement Program on marine mammals and marine protected areas since April 2018
  • increased marine mammal surveillance under the National Aerial Surveillance Program
  • funded several research projects with partners to understand the impact of underwater noise on endangered whales, specifically the North Atlantic Right Whale, Southern Resident Killer Whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga
  • established six pilot sites across the country to help understand and inform the national cumulative effects of marine shipping framework, while working with Indigenous peoples, local stakeholders and coastal communities

Building on the Oceans Protection Plan, the Government announced additional funds for the protection of Canada’s endangered whale populations. The $167.4 million Whales Initiative aims to protect and support the recovery of Southern Resident Killer Whales, North Atlantic Right Whales and St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga. We are using comprehensive actions tailored to address the unique combination of threats faced by these species. Under the Whales Initiative, we have:

  • closed recreational fishing and commercial salmon fishing in key foraging areas for Southern Resident Killer Whales
  • updated the Marine Mammal Regulations with new measures to protect marine mammals, including:
    • a minimum 100-metre approach distance for most whales, dolphins and porpoises
    • a minimum 200-metre distance for killer whales in British Columbia and the Pacific Ocean.
  • increased scientific research and monitoring of contaminants (including air, freshwater, and landfill leachate) to improve our understanding of their sources and possible impacts to whales and their prey
  • building off the success of the 2017 trail slowdown, together with industry partners, implemented a voluntary vessel slowdown in Haro Strait between July 12, 2018 and October 31, 2018, to further assess and reduce underwater noise from vessel traffic affecting Southern Resident Killer Whales
  • worked with industry partners between August 20, 2018 and October 31, 2018, to move vessels further south within Strait of Juan de Fuca shipping lanes to measure potential noise reduction in key Southern Resident Killer Whales foraging areas.
  • advanced international action on vessel noise, including organizing national and international technical workshops, to promote adopting quiet ship design standards and technologies
  • announced $61.5 million in further measures to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales, including to:
    • reduce underwater noise
    • expand monitoring systems
    • identify and protect new areas of habitat needed for Southern Resident Killer Whales survival and recovery
  • committed to enhance regulatory controls for two flame retardants and three oil and water repellents, and two additional flame retardants if final scientific risk assessments confirm their toxicity
  • continued protecting North Atlantic Right Whales by introducing speed restrictions and fisheries management measures, including closures to fisheries, in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, and in particular the Gulf of St. Lawrence
  • continued to build capacity under the Marine Mammal Response Program, including within Indigenous communities;
  • increased the number of fishery officers on the water to verify compliance with fisheries management measures, Marine Mammal Regulations, and to enforce the disturbance and harassment provisions of the regulations and the Species at Risk Act

Top-left: A local company removes an abandoned boat from the coast of British Columbia

Bottom-left: A group of sea lions bask on the rocks in Haida Gwaii

Right: The Mi’kmaq Alsumk Mowimsikik Koqoey Association are restoring this coastal aquatic habitat for Atlantic Salmon and shellfish in Conne River, Newfoundland and Labrador

Indigenous partnerships

Under the Oceans Protection Plan, we are actively engaging with Indigenous peoples across the country to build new partnerships, facilitate their participation in the marine safety system and work with them to collaborate on specific marine initiatives. We are also collaborating with Indigenous coastal communities to enhance marine safety by providing new boats and equipment, and through training that helps local community members play an even more important role in marine safety. As of March 31, 2019, over 500 engagement sessions have been held, including over 350 engagement sessions with Indigenous groups.

To date, we have:

  • established pilot projects in Indigenous communities to test a web-based system that increases local access to local maritime data, including vessel traffic;
  • established a collaborative oceans management governance structure in partnership with 14 Pacific North and Central Coast First Nations in British Columbia, to address marine planning, shipping, marine safety and oceans protection over a large geographic area
  • provided emergency response and waterway management training to Indigenous communities in British Columbia to increase their knowledge and skills, and support the important role they play in marine safety in their communities
  • created the Marine Training Program to help underrepresented groups, such as women, Northerners, Inuit and Indigenous peoples, access marine training. The program is currently offered through:
    • the Nunavut Fisheries and Marine Training Consortium
    • British Columbia Institute of Technology, in partnership with Camosun College
    • Nova Scotia Community College
  • provided funding for four northern Indigenous communities to buy search and rescue boats and equipment, increasing their capacity to participate as members of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary and play a role in marine safety in their communities.
Students receiving marine training at the Nunavut Fisheries and Marine Training Consortium at the Iqaluit and Hay River campuses.

Stronger evidence base

To address risks posed by tanker traffic, the Government of Canada is improving its understanding of how various types of oil and petroleum products behave when spilled in a marine environment. We are advancing knowledge and the scientific advice provided to oil spill responders to inform the response approach to a spill and the resulting decision-making process. Investments in ocean modelling, oil spill behaviour, biological effects, containment, and cleaning techniques will ensure that Canada can provide the best scientific advice and tools to prevent and respond to oil spills. We are also funding partnership projects to collect ecological data along our coasts and research to study the impacts of underwater noise and reduced availability of prey on marine mammals.

To date we have funded:

  • the creation of the Multi-Partner Research Initiative to bring scientists together to improve our collective understanding of alternate spill response measures;
  • the Coastal Environmental Baseline Program, a collaborative initiative involving Government of Canada scientists, Indigenous and coastal communities, and other local partners in collecting wide-ranging scientific baseline data that will help detect changes in six marine ecosystems across Canada over time;
  • investments in Ocean Networks Canada, which operates several ocean observatories based at the University of Victoria that will strengthen high-quality, real-time or near real-time data on our marine environment to support the work of scientists throughout Canada;
  • the development of ocean modelling of wind, waves and currents so that emergency responders can accurately track spills and predict their path
  • oil spill research to better understand how oil behaves and degrades in different marine conditions;
  • the increased use of world-renowned digital hydrophone and oceanographic technologies to help us better understand the underwater acoustic environment and inform mitigation strategies to protect marine mammals
  • several research projects to study the impacts of underwater noise and reduced availability of prey on marine mammals such as:
    • examining how changes in the food web affect the abundance and quality of Chinook salmon in critical habitat areas of the Southern Resident Killer Whale.
    • undertaking a comprehensive health and condition assessment of Southern and Northern Resident Killer Whale populations to better understand the impact of environmental stressors, particularly noise and prey limitation.
    • continuing to operate an underwater listening station to measure noise levels from commercial vessels and the presence of Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea.

Left: Canadian Coast Guard personnel practice deploying new environmental response equipment

Top-right: A scientist from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans listens to an underwater digital recorder

Bottom-right: A scientist from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans scans the horizon for mammals
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