La cartographie des espaces marins

Comme c’est le cas sur terre, la protection des sols marins permet de préserver la diversité biologique des espèces qui y vivent. Pour le moment cependant, la classification des régions côtières et marines n’est pas encore parfaite.

Au cours des dernières années, Parcs Canada, faisant suite à des préoccupations concernant le dépérissement des écosystèmes marins, a établi un système de classification des eaux qui a servi de point de départ.

La conservation d’espaces marins vient remplacer les démarches de protection d’espèces individuelles. En identifiant les espaces appropriés à protéger, on est capable de protéger les espèces en danger qui y vivent.

En collaboration avec le ministère des Pêches et Océans et Parcs Canada, le « World Wildlife Fund » est en train d’étudier le système de classification des espaces marins.

Il y a aujourd’hui plus de 1300 Zones marines protégées sur la planète.

Mapping the Marine Landscape:
A key step in marine biodiversity conservation

Inka Milewski,
Marine Protected Areas, World Wildlife Fund, Atlantic Endangered Spaces Campaign
October 1998

i.gif (173 bytes)t is difficult to imagine the variation in ocean landscapes or seascapes. Just as on land, the distribution of plant and animal life in the ocean changes as the temperature, light, depth, bottom sediment and geology changes. Imagine flying at a low altitude over New Brunswick or any other province in Canada. One of the first things you will notice is how the landscape changes. If you travel from the northern part of New Brunswick around Mount Carleton and the Christmas Mountains to the central part of the province around Grand Lake, the forest cover in the north will be dominated by evergreen trees such as spruce and fir. Further south around Grand Lake, the elevation is much lower and the climate considerably warmer. As a result deciduous trees, such as maple and birch, are dominant.

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(photo: Conservation
Council of N.B.)

International Year
of the Ocean"

Now imagine you are in a small submarine traveling from the head of the Bay of Fundy to Grand Manan. You will notice that the sea bottom changes from the muddy bottom of the upper Bay to the gravel and rocky bottom of the outer Bay. You will also notice that the type of animals associated with the different sea bottoms changes. Muddy bottoms are home to burrowing and tube-building animals like the mud shrimp (Corophium sp.) that are so important to the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that come to feed in the upper Bay on their southern migration. In the outer Bay, the gravel and rocky bottom provides a hard surface on which animals, like sponges and sea potatoes, and seaweeds can attach themselves. The rocky bottom provides crevasses that shelter crabs, lobsters, and sea stars.

Fishermen and others who have spent time working at sea have long known about the diversity in the ocean’s seascape. For example, the sandy bottom of Sable Island Bank supports scallops, sand dollars and, depending on the time of year, the eggs and larvae of cod, haddock, pollock, and silver hake, whereas the soft-bottom, grey clays of the Emerald and LaHave basins on the Scotian Shelf support brittle stars, mud stars and high concentrations of krill, which in turn supports high concentrations of juvenile silver hake.

Mapping and classifying coastal and marine landscapes is not as well developed as it is for terrestrial landscapes. Each provincial and territorial government has looked at its terrestrial landscape and mapped the natural patterns according to a widely applied Biophysical Land Classification System. New Brunswick has 7 terrestrial ecoregions and 34 ecodistricts. Nova Scotia has identified 8 terrestrial regions that have been subdivided into 33 districts and 65 units. The information derived from these classification systems is being used for parks and natural areas planning, resource management, land use planning, eco-tourism and other recreational planning, and programs in environmental education.

Concerns over depleting marine resources and the health of marine ecosystems has accelerated the development of an ecological classification system for marine waters over the past few years. Parks Canada has defined a classification framework that consists of 29 regions for Canada's entire marine territory, including the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence waterway. Atlantic marine waters, according to the Parks Canada system, can be divided into ten regions, with the Bay of Fundy representing one natural region and the Scotian Shelf representing another. With the establishment of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park on June 8, 1998, Atlantic Canada has one of its marine natural regions protected. Community consultations about a potential Marine Conservation Area in the Bonavista-Notre Dame Bays area in Newfoundland are currently underway.

The Park Canada framework has served as a starting point for classifying marine waters, but a finer scale can be defined and will be necessary for regional management and planning purposes. For example, British Columbia has developed a natural regions framework that includes 10 mainly marine ecosections and 18 ecosections with marine and coastal components. On the other hand Parks Canada, for their planning purposes, has defined five marine natural regions for the Pacific Ocean within Canada’s 200-mile limit.

Quebec and Nova Scotia have also developed marine classification frameworks. The Nova Scotia framework, developed by the Nova Scotia Museum, includes all areas around the province that are covered with seawater out to the 200 nautical mile limit; an area essentially encompassed by one of the marine natural regions identified by Parks Canada. According to the Nova Scotia framework, this area has been divided into four districts and 11 units. No such classifications system exists or has been initiated for New Brunswick’s marine waters.

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(Bitmap: Art MacKay)

Conserving Marine Spaces

In recent years there has been a growing realization that we should be identifying and conserving representative spaces, rather than preserving individual species. The rationale is that if we can identify the appropriate representative spaces to be protected, then these should contain the species we wish to conserve. The systematic identification of marine communities and delineation of their boundaries in a consistent classification can ensure that representative examples of Canada’s marine, estuarine and freshwater areas are properly identified and protected.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in collaboration with the DFO and Parks Canada, has undertaken a project to test the classification framework using the Scotian Shelf area as a case study. The Scotian Shelf includes the marine waters off the Atlantic coast and adjacent to Nova Scotia extending out to the 200 mile limit. It totals an area of approximately 316,000 km2. The northern limit of the study area is the area west of Cape Breton Island while the southern limit includes part of Georges Bank; the Bay of Fundy is also within the study area. The case study will define the marine natural regions of the Scotian Shelf (equivalent to ecoregions on land) and then further divide these natural regions into Marine Representative units or seascapes.

Marine Protected Areas

In the marine world, conserving spaces can mean the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs), and considerable effort is being directed worldwide to establish MPAs. Today, there are over 1300 areas designated as MPAs around the world.

In July 1996, the Department of Natural Resources and Energy (DNRE) took the lead on marine protected areas in New Brunswick. At the time, the department was considering extending the boundaries of a proposed Fundy coastal protected area to include a marine component and expanding protection on two Ramsar sites: Tabusintac lagoon and river estuary and Shepody Bay. The province claims jurisdiction over submerged crown land to a point halfway across the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait. They do not claim jurisdiction over the overlying waters. To date, there has been no action from the province on these proposed initiatives.

The province did prepare a draft Provincial Land Use Policy for Coastal Lands which was released on August 8, 1996. It will apply to lands which extend landward from the low water mark. The proposed policy will not incorporate marine waters. The seaward area is to be addressed by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) and DNRE. When their work is completed, the marine component will be integrated into the Coastal Lands Policy.

Two years have passed since the New Brunswick government released the draft policy and undertook a consultation on marine issues in the province. The draft policy has yet to be enacted and no report on the marine consultation has been released.

From a provincial perspective, the direction for MPAs in New Brunswick is unclear. However, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is proceeding with their mandate to identify and establish MPAs under the Oceans Act. Under this Act, marine protected areas (MPAs) can be established for the conservation and protection of fishery and non-fishery resources, endangered or threatened marine species, unique habitats, marine areas of high biodiversity or productivity, and any other marine resource or habitat that is necessary to fulfil the mandate of the DFO Minister.

DFO has defined its Marine Protected Areas Program policy and framework in documents released in June 1998. These documents present the national approach to MPAs in Canada and provide a process for the identification, establishment and management of MPAs in the Maritimes. To assist DFO in the implementation of this program, four MPA Extension Workers have been assigned to the Maritime Region. For more information on DFO’s MPA program, contact Bob Rutherford, Manager, MPA Program, Oceans Act Coordination Office, Maritimes Region- Halifax, tel (902) 426-8398 or e-mail:

If you would like more information on WWF’s MPA program, please contact Inka Milewski, Atlantic Coordinator, Marine Protected Areas Program: 254 Douglasfield Road, Miramichi, NB, E1N 4S5, tel (506) 622-2460; e-mail: