Future-proofing Marine Protected Area Networks

Lay Summary 

Marine Protected Area networks and other spatial management tools offer an important strategy that forms a growing aspect of ocean governance. Marine Protected Areas are often designed to protect biodiversity, sustain or enhance productivity and critical habitat, maintain ocean health and provide insurance against sudden or drastic changes in the ecosystem and its resources. 


Canada is committed to expanding its Marine Protected Area coverage from ~1% to 10% by the year 2020. This research aims to complement existing efforts to help ‘future-proof’ such Marine Protected Area networks and other spatial management tools such as fisheries closures and critical habitat designations. By integrating observational data on shifting habitats and ecosystems with real-time remote sensing, animal movement, and vessel tracking data, this project will help to understand — and model — changes in ocean conditions, biological resources, and human use patterns relevant to Marine Protected Areas. 


Marine Protected Areas limit certain uses of coastal or ocean regions in order to protect natural resources, biodiversity, or peoples’ livelihoods. They can also protect spiritual and cultural heritage, and support uses that help people understand and appreciate Canada’s marine resources.


Determining where to best place Marine Protected Areas and how to manage them in the face of changing climate and ocean conditions represents a major challenge. Climate change already  shifts ecosystem and species from their historical ranges, sometimes into poorly protected or otherwise unsuitable environments.


Research objectiveto make marine spatial management in the Northwest Atlantic responsive to the challenges of rapid environmental change and shifting ecosystems.


Due to its more rapid rate of climate change, the Northwest Atlantic may be understood as as a global sentinel for ocean change. Researchers will use this region to test our understanding of management of marine ecosystem use and how management strategies can respond to accelerated environmental change. The results can inform ecosystem and fisheries management regionally, as well a provide a comprehensive toolbox for ‘climate-smart’ Marine Protected Area management in other parts of the globe.


Research benefits:


1. Provide an integrated toolkit and decision-making framework for static versus dynamic management


2. Work towards a regional citizen-scientist observer base for ocean observation and monitoring


3. Develop novel statistical tools for dynamic modeling of changing conditions


4. Design novel legal tools for decision-making in a dynamic environmental context


More information about this project and a full list of researchers can be found here.


Adapted from https://oceanfrontierinstitute.com/research/future-proofing-marine-protected-area-networks

Ocean Sciences
Marine Protected Areas
Climate Change
Cold Ocean and Arctic, Science, Technology and Society
Start date 
1 Jan 2020
Lead Organization 
Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI)
Partner Organization 
Dalhousie University
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
United Nations Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
World Wildlife Fund