Guide to understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: chapter 8

8. Marine environment and disposal at sea

8.1 Land-based sources of marine pollution

8.1.1 What are land-based sources of marine pollution?

The major threats to the health, productivity and biodiversity of the marine environment result from human activities on land in coastal areas and further inland. About 80% of the pollution load in the oceans originates from land-based activities. This includes wastes and run-off from municipal, industrial and agricultural activities, as well as deposits from the atmosphere. These contaminants affect the most productive areas of the marine environment, including estuaries and nearshore coastal waters. The marine environment is also threatened by physical alterations of the coastal zone, including destruction of habitats of vital importance to maintain ecosystem health. The impacts from land-based activities include closures of shellfish growing areas, degraded beaches, destroyed habitat and contaminated sites.

8.1.2 Who protects Canada's marine environment?

The protection of the marine environment in Canada is a responsibility shared by all levels of government. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) provisions are intended to complement existing regulatory measures and supplement the authority that exists in other federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal government laws.

8.1.3 How is CEPA 1999 used to manage land-based sources of marine pollution?

CEPA 1999 provides the authority to issue non-regulatory objectives, guidelines and codes of practice to prevent and reduce marine pollution from land-based sources. This is done after consultation with other affected governments.

Keeping in mind the shared responsibility and cost-effectiveness of building on existing programs, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the provinces and territories developed a National Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. As a national framework and plan, the programme provides an assessment of the state of Canada's coastal and marine environment and identifies the management objectives strategies and priority actions that need to be implemented.

8.2 Disposal at sea

8.2.1 What is disposal at sea?

Each year in Canada, two to three million tonnes of material is disposed of at sea. Most of this is material dredged from ocean floors that must be moved to keep shipping channels and harbours clear for navigation and commerce. CEPA 1999 covers the disposal of certain substances at sea from ships, aircraft, platforms or other structures. Discharges from land-based facilities or from normal ship operations are not considered disposal at sea, but are subject to controls under other acts.

8.2.2 How is CEPA 1999 used to manage disposal at sea?

CEPA 1999 prohibits the disposal of wastes and other matter at sea within Canadian jurisdiction and by Canadian ships in international waters and waters under foreign jurisdiction, unless the disposal is done under a permit issued by the Minister. Permits typically govern timing, handling, storing, loading, placement at the disposal site and monitoring requirements. Permits are published in the Canada Gazette, Part I and on the CEPA Registry. The permit system allows Canada to meet international obligations under the London Convention, 1972 and the 1996 Protocol to the Convention.

Only those substances listed in Schedule 5 of CEPA 1999 may be considered for disposal at sea. These include dredged material, fisheries waste, ships, inert geological matter, uncontaminated organic matter and bulky substances that are primarily composed of iron, steel, concrete or other similar matter. Incineration at sea is banned except under emergency situations or if it is waste generated on board the ship or structure.

Permits are granted on a case-by-case basis after an application and review process. Applicants for a disposal at sea permit must provide detailed disposal data, proof that the applicant published a notice of intent in a local newspaper, any required samples and analyses and payment of fees. Applicants must also comply with the Assessment of Waste or Other Matter in Schedule 6 of CEPA 1999, which requires consideration of other disposal options, such as recycling and means to prevent or reduce the generation of waste. A permit for disposal at sea will be approved only if it is the environmentally preferable and practical option. Permits are not granted if practical opportunities are available to recycle or reuse the material.

Once a permit is issued, Environment Canada conducts periodic inspections during disposal operations to ensure compliance with the permit's conditions. After disposal operations are completed, monitoring studies are conducted at selected sites to verify that permit conditions were met and that scientific assumptions made during the permit review process were correct and sufficient to protect the environment. Results of the monitoring studies are considered in future permit assessments.

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