Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life below water

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14Footnote 1 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. It recognizes that the health of oceans and seas directly affects:

SDG 14 aims for results such as:

Canadian ambition under life below water

Canada's ambitionFootnote 2 for this goal is to protect and conserve marine areas and sustainably manage ocean fish stocks. With the world's longest coastline, SDG 14 is highly relevant to Canada. Changing ocean conditions are already directly affecting communities and ecosystems along our Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, including Indigenous communities.

These changes include: changing sea levels, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, and changing sea ice. The Government of Canada has placed a high priority on conserving and protecting the oceans, ensuring sustainable fisheries, addressing marine pollution and supporting climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience.

The national targets are:

  • to conserve 25% of Canada's oceans by 2025, and 30% by 2030
  • for key fishFootnote 3 and invertebrate stocks to be managed and harvested at levels considered to be sustainable by 2023, from a baseline of 96% in 2016

Measuring Progress: the Canadian Indicator Framework

In collaboration with federal departments and agencies, Statistics Canada has developed the Canadian Indicator Framework (CIF) for the Sustainable Development Goals. The CIF includes 76 indicators specific to Canada, which measure progress using a set of nationally relevant, objective and comprehensive indicators. CIF indicators for SDG 14 are:

  • Proportion of marine and coastal areas conserved
  • Proportion of key fish stocks that are sustainably harvested

What we are doing to improve life below water in Canada

Canada continues to make progress on marine conservation. Budget 2021 included $976.8 million towards the goal of conserving 25% of Canada's oceans by 2025. Additionally, Canada aims to conserve 30% of its oceans by 2030. These targets will be achieved through the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), including marine refuges. The federal strategy for achieving these targets involves:

  • effective management of MPAs and OECMs to ensure they are effective in achieving their conservation objectives
  • new site establishment of MPAs and OECMs to meet the 25% target by 2025 and 30% by 2030
  • collaboration to foster meaningful partnerships with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments, and local communities, to advance effective ocean planning and conservation activities
  • marine spatial planning to help enable ambitious marine conservation objectives while also allowing for sustainable growth in our ocean sectors as part of the development of a resilient blue economy
  • international advocacy to advocate for conserving 30 % of the world's oceans by 2030

This approach builds on Canada's success in exceeding its commitment to conserve 10% of its marine and coastal areas by 2020. As of January 2023, 14.66% of Canada's oceans were recognized as conserved through MPAs and OECMs.

In 2019, Canada announced a prohibition on oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping, and bottom-trawling in all federal MPAs established after April 25, 2019.

The federal government conducts monitoring and research to inform management and conservation measures for Canada's marine and coastal ecosystems. These ecosystems are undergoing significant changes in their structure and dynamics, which are related to a combination of climate change, natural variability and other human pressures.

The federal government is also investing in research to ensure that science continues to inform marine pollution incidents, particularly from accidental oil spills and Hazardous and Noxious Substances. Gaining a deeper insight into these incidents and responses across Canada's diverse environments will ensure we have the necessary knowledge and tools to effectively manage marine pollution and protect coastal communities and ecosystems.

The federal government contributes to responsible, science-based fisheries management under the Sustainable Fisheries Framework, which promotes and ensures precautionary and ecosystem based approaches are used to keep fish stocks healthy, protect biodiversity and fisheries habitats, and make sure that Canadian fisheries support conservation and sustainable use of resources.

The federal government contributes to reducing marine pollution via controls on the disposal of waste at sea through a general prohibition under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Permits are available for a limited list of low-risk materials where disposal at sea is the environmentally preferable option. The majority of disposal at sea in Canada is dredged material and fish processing waste. As part of the new MPA Protection Standard, all disposal at sea will be prohibited in MPAs unless there is a conservation benefit from the use of dredged material.

The federal government is protecting marine and coastal ecosystems through the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan. This is creating new governance arrangements with Indigenous peoples and local communities in marine planning, monitoring and protection activities. One focus of attention is to protect Canadians' quality of life, especially in coastal communities, from potential risks related to marine shipping, such as the introduction of aquatic invasive species via shipping and marine pollution. In addition, the Plan complements:

The federal government is working with partners to advance new opportunities for Indigenous-led conservation initiatives based on the innovative Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) funding model, for which new funding of $800 million was announced in December 2022. PFPs are a form of public-private financing partnership, designed to support conservation, reconciliation and community economic development objectives across larger regional areas. In Canada these initiatives include the Great Bear Sea led by First Nations on the Pacific North Coast; Northwest Territories led by 33 Indigenous communities; Qikiqtani in Nunavut, led by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Omushkego on the west coast of James Bay and southwest coast of Hudson Bay led by the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council.

The federal government is also investing in collaborative approaches to conservation, such as those enabled by the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk. The fund supports protection and recovery efforts in priority places and to address priority threats.

The Government of Canada collaborates with provincial and territorial partners through the National Aquatic Invasive Species Committee under the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister to implement the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulation and manage the threat that invasive species pose to Canadian ecosystems.

Through the Whales Initiative investment of $167.4 million in 2018, and $151.9 million in 2023, the Government of Canada has taken action to address human-based threats against endangered cetaceans. Whenever possible, measures have been implemented through collaboration with Indigenous communities and stakeholders to support the protection and recovery of endangered whale populations. The initiative focuses on protecting North Atlantic right whales, Southern Resident killer whales, and St. Lawrence Estuary belugas whales from human-based threats that include:

  • threats from noise and other disturbances
  • entanglements in fishing gear
  • vessel strikes
  • prey availability
  • contaminants

The Government of Canada conducts scientific research and monitoring to better understand aquatic ecosystems and predict the future state of Canada's oceans, creating a strong evidence base for policy and decision-making. Canada works with domestic and international partners on ocean science activities of shared interest to improve our knowledge of species and ecosystems, and to better understand the impacts of threats like climate change. For instance, Canada cooperates with the United States, on ocean acidification observing and monitoring activities.

Canada has also partnered with domestic partners, through programs such as the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, which funds research and restoration projects in support of salmon ecosystems, as well as the long-term environmental and economic sustainability of the seafood sector.

To date, through the Ghost Gear Fund, more than 1,910 tonnes of ghost gear have been successfully removed from Canadian waters. The program supports domestic and international initiatives that:

  • retrieve ghost gear
  • responsibly dispose of fishing related plastic waste
  • acquire and pilot innovative technologies to mitigate or reduce the impacts of ghost gear

The federal government is advancing Marine Spatial Planning - a process for managing ocean spaces to achieve ecological, economic, cultural and social objectives. Marine spatial planning is being advanced in collaboration with other federal departments, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments as well as relevant stakeholders. Marine spatial planning has achieved many successes, such as the public release of the Canada Marine Planning Atlas, which is an interactive mapping tool for decision-makers and other end users to access information about ecological processes, bioregion features and human activities in Canada's marine spatial planning areas. The atlas allows users to discover, view, interact with and download geospatial data relevant to marine spatial planning. Canada is also advancing first-generation marine spatial plans or frameworks by 2024.

The Government of Canada is advancing open science, and making scientific publications on the state of our aquatic ecosystems available and accessible to the public. Government scientists share data publicly via open data platforms, such as the Federal Geospatial Platform and the Canadian Open Data Portal.

What Canada is doing to improve life below water abroad

The Government of Canada is addressing marine pollution by spearheading the Ocean Plastics Charter. The Charter is the only global framework that takes a comprehensive life-cycle approach to addressing marine plastic pollution. The Charter addresses plastic waste in developing countries, sparks innovation to beat plastic pollution, and supports innovative private-public partnerships. To advance the goals of the Charter, Canada has delivered $100 million to address plastic waste in developing countries, spark innovation to beat plastic pollution, and support innovative private-public partnerships.

Canada also provided $5 million to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to support efforts to ensure inclusive, equitable and transparent negotiations towards an international legally binding agreement on plastic pollution and other priorities, including nature-based solutions and methane emissions reduction.

The federal government works to protect marine and coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs, through involvement in international activities such as the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, Global Funds for Coral Reefs and International Coral Reef Initiative.

Aligned with the commitment to safeguard marine ecosystems, Canada has forged a partnership with Greenland to preserve the Pikialasorsuaq Arctic polynya. This joint endeavor incorporates active participation from Indigenous communities. Collectively, these efforts are directed towards common conservation objectives and the advancement of ecosystem-based management, ensuring a sustainable future for the Pikialasorsuaq.

The federal government works in collaboration with the International Maritime Organization to advance international action on underwater vessel noise and promote the adoption of quiet ship design standards and technologies in commercial shipping.

The Government of Canada is helping to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing throughout the world. This is done through international negotiation to strengthen the rules-based international order governing fisheries, as well as investments that strengthen dark vessel detection, high seas detection, and support for key stakeholders. Canada has also ratified the Port State Measures Agreement to prevent illicit products from reaching market.

Canada's Indo-Pacific Strategy enhances Canada's commitment to combat IUU fishing through the Shared Ocean Fund ($84.3 million over 5 years). This fund will increase maritime cooperation and support a healthy marine environment in the region.

The Shared Ocean Fund also supports Canada's ongoing multilateral engagement at regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). Through these forums, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, on behalf of Canada, works to: support the management of highly migratory and high seas fish stocks by advancing science-based, sustainable measures for targeted fish stocks, incidental species, and ecosystems; negotiate legally-binding measures aimed at responsibly and sustainably managing high seas fisheries; and, countering IUU fishing.

Canada is active in World Trade Organization negotiations and other processes to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies and increase the economic benefits of sustainable marine resources for Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries.

Canada participates in the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, which has a set goals of 74 goals, outlined in their ocean action agenda, that address ocean wealth, health, finance, equity, and knowledge. These objectives closely align with the 2030 Agenda, with a particular focus on SDG 14. Canada is also working with partners domestically and internationally to advance innovative, solution-based science under the United Nations Decade of Ocean for Sustainable Development (2021 to 2030).

As a member of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, Canada has become a global leader in combatting ghost gear. Canada also encourages other nations to join the Initiative and take action to reduce ghost fishing and fisheries related marine litter.

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