Parks and protected areas

Protecting our national heritage of forests, rivers, lakes and mountains

Taking action

The Government of Canada will work with the provinces and territories to:

  • Protect 17 percent of its terrestrial areas, and ten percent of its marine areas by 2020.

Canadians have been inspired for generations by the wonder and mystery of their natural environment.

From the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains, to the stillness of Ontario’s lake country, to the blue oceans that surround our coasts, our landscape tells a story through time and across geography.

As development put pressure on our natural spaces over time, protecting them became imperative. Today, we have 46 National Parks and Park Reserves, 4 National Marine Conservation Areas, and 146 National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries that span diverse ecosystems across the country. Canadians can survey the wide, yellow vistas of Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, the deep fjords of Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador or the thousands of migratory birds in Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area.

Environment and Climate Change Canada and Parks Canada work throughout the country to protect and present special places where Canadians and people from around the world can connect and enjoy.

By protecting our lands and oceans we help fight and mitigate the effects of climate change. Lands and oceans act as massive carbon sinks, absorbing emissions that would otherwise heat our planet. They provide refuge and migration routes for native animal species. Protected areas tend to be more resilient to climate change. The total area Canada has protected in the last 20 years has increased by 70 percent. As of 2015, 10.6 percent of our terrestrial areas were protected, as well as about one percent of our vast marine areas.

Climate change is already eroding our coasts and shrinking glaciers. Climate change is also affecting biodiversity. The rapid pace of climate change will increasingly impair the ability of ecosystems and species to adapt. Scientists predict this will result in species losses. These impacts have only increased the importance of protecting our land. That is why Canada is taking measures to strengthen both our marine and terrestrial areas, and the biodiversity within them. Healthy, biologically diverse ecosystems are more resilient to change and can also help protect against climate change impacts, such as flooding and drought.

By 2020, Canada aims to protect at least 17 percent of its terrestrial areas, and 10 percent of its marine areas through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. By preserving these spaces we will protect more of our forests, oceans, wetlands, prairies and tundra — that, together, provide important ecological services such as flood control, clean water, carbon storage, and drought mitigation, and are a key element in the larger strategy to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Marine Protected Areas, parks, and wilderness preserves, act as important carbon sinks. By preserving swaths of land we prevent deforestation and maintain those carbon sinks. The same goes for marine reserves. Overall, our oceans are the world’s largest carbon sink, and they store more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide humans emit. For example, healthy coastal habitats, such as salt marshes and seagrass meadows, sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forest and store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests. By protecting the ocean and coastal habitats, we keep that carbon from entering the atmosphere.

The Arctic is another important carbon sink. But it is at risk. Permafrost is thawing at unprecedented rates and releasing large amounts of carbon. Some experts think the Arctic could shift from a carbon sink to a net carbon source. Protecting the oceans and lands of the Arctic has never been more important.

Canada’s flora and fauna – like our oceans, rivers, forests and mountains – all form an iconic natural environment that is known and cherished around the world. We must continue to preserve and protect our parks and protected areas so that future generations of Canadians will continue to discover and be inspired by Canada’s stunning beauty.

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