Why is the Bay of Fundy so significant?

The Bay of Fundy is significant for many natural, cultural, and socioeconomic reasons. From a conservation perspective, the Bay offers a number of outstanding natural values:

•    Highest tides in the world generate rich upwelling zones
•    Critical habitat for the endangered North Atlantic Right whale
•    Large concentration of whales, including humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, and even the occasional orca or blue whale
•    Provides habitat for several species of dolphins, including Atlantic white-sided dolphin, striped dolphin, bottle-nosed dolphin, and Saddle-backed dolphin
•    Important stopover area for nearly 2 million migratory shorebirds each year
•    Rich tidal salt marshes; some of the most productive ecosystems on Earth
•    Presence of deep-sea corals and important marine life
•    Large species diversity, including hundreds of species of fish and shorebirds and over 20 species of marine mammals
•    Home to the largest known horse mussel reefs in the world


If the Bay of Fundy is so significant, why isn’t it already protected?

It is not entirely clear why better protection is not yet in place, though Canada has a poor track record of establishing marine protected areas across the country. There are several protected areas located along the coastline of the Bay of Fundy, such as Musquash Estuary and Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, and Cape Chignecto Provincial Park in Nova Scotia, but the vast majority of the marine environment is not currently protected. This leaves the significant majority of the Bay of Fundy ecosystem vulnerable to human disturbances, particularly the rich upwelling zones in the outer Bay of Fundy where most whales tend to congregate each year. There’s certainly no shortage of support amongst Canadians for protecting the Bay of Fundy.

What are some of the threats facing the Bay of Fundy?

Industrialization is occurring in the Bay of Fundy before adequate conservation measures have been put in place. This threatens the very ecosystems and wildlife that make the Bay so special. The types of threats that the Bay of Fundy faces include:

•    Proposal to turn Scots Bay into an industrial lagoon 
•    Export terminal proposed for exporting bitumen from the Tarsands
•    Coastal mega-quarries to provide aggregate to Northeastern United States
•    Open-net pen aquaculture sites 
•    Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) projects 
•    Coastal wetland loss and creation of tidal barriers 
•    Development along the coastline and hardened structures

One of the biggest threats facing the Bay of Fundy, however, is government inaction.  The failure to implement a proper network of marine protected areas has left the ecosystems and wildlife of the Bay of Fundy unnecessarily vulnerable to increasing industrial pressures.

I heard they moved the shipping lanes to save the whales. Isn’t that enough?

In 2003, the main shipping lane through the Bay of Fundy to the Port of Saint John was moved to avoid an area with the highest concentration of endangered North Atlantic right whales. This change seems to have helped the right whales significantly and it is certainly a welcome conservation effort.  By itself, however, the change in the shipping lane is not enough to protect the full range of natural diversity and wildlife in the Bay of Fundy. 

What is a marine protected area?

A marine protected area (MPA) is a place in the ocean that is legally designated for conservation. They are created to provide long-term protection for marine ecosystems, natural processes, habitats, and species. When several MPAs are designated as a group, this is referred to as an MPA network. A marine protected area is supposed to be a place where human impacts are minimized in the marine environment to ensure the natural environment is maintained well into the future. 

What are the benefits of marine protected areas?

The benefits of marine protected areas are many. MPAs are internationally recognized as an effective tool for sustaining marine biodiversity and local economies. The ecological benefits of MPAs translate into economic, social and cultural benefits such as sustained fisheries, enhanced tourism and recreational opportunities, increased scientific research, and more effective education programs, as well as appreciation for the marine environment.

Can fishing still occur inside a marine protected area?

An MPA can be zoned to allow for some low-impact fishing to occur within the MPA boundary. The existing marine protected area at The Gully, near Sable Island, has zones for fishing activity and the pending designation of St. Anns Bank MPA near Cape Breton will contain specific zones that allow for crab pots and halibut fishing. The most ecologically significant portion of an MPA, however, needs to be zoned for conservation as the first priority.  These areas are usually referred to as “no-take” zones, but can still benefit fisheries by acting as nursery areas for economic species that “spill over” outside of the MPA itself. MPAs are becoming increasingly recognized as an important tool in developing truly sustainable fisheries.

How would a marine protected area for the Bay of Fundy affect the existing tourism business and operations?

Tourism is big business in the Maritimes, accounting for billions of dollars in economic activity every year. The Bay of Fundy is often featured in these tourism campaigns, providing signature visitor experiences on both sides of the Bay and employing thousands of people. This includes ecotourism industries, such as whale-watching, marine tours and deep-sea fishing, and recreational businesses such as sea kayaking and diving.

Marine protected areas can help safeguard the natural areas local tourism businesses need to thrive and protect the marine biodiversity upon which they depend. A network of MPAs for the Bay of Fundy is consistent with this existing ecotourism industry, and will help sustain a multi-million dollar industry and thousands of local jobs.

What impact is tidal energy having on the Bay of Fundy?

A lot of research is being undertaken right now to determine the potential environmental impacts of tidal energy on the wildlife and habitats of the Bay of Fundy. For the most part, the location of marine protected areas and most tidal energy projects would likely be in entirely different areas of the Bay of Fundy. A number of scientific studies examining conservation opportunities within the Bay of Fundy have prioritized the Outer Bay of Fundy, where whales tend to congregate, and the Inner Bay of Fundy, with the vast mudlfats and tidal salt marshes important for migratory birds. 

These areas are spatially separated from the area in the mid-portion of the Bay of greatest interest for tidal energy, particularly the narrow channels where flow rates are greatest and most consistent. One particular project that is causing much concern, however, is a proposed tidal energy project for Scots Bay, in Nova Scotia, that would involve building a 10 km long barrier-type structure from Cape Split to Baxters Harbour, essentially turning Scots Bay into an industrial lagoon.

Is the proposed Energy East Pipeline a threat to the Bay of Fundy?

Yes. Exporting raw bitumen through the Bay of Fundy is potentially dangerous, and if a spill was to occur, it would likely have big impacts on the natural environment.  A bitumen spill in winter time would be particularly challenging to clean up. 

Who is responsible for creating marine protected areas in Canada?

Marine protected areas in Canada are usually created by the federal government, either as Oceans Act MPAs administered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), or National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCA) by Parks Canada, or Marine Wildlife Areas by Environment Canada. Although MPAs are usually created by the federal government, support from the provincial government is crucial for an MPA to be established. Some provinces have provincially designated marine protected areas in nearshore waters. For the Bay of Fundy, Parks Canada has completed a study looking at high priority conservation areas within the Bay (read more) and DFO has a requirement to undertake MPA network planning in all of Canada’s waters, including the Bay of Fundy.

Does Canada have a good track record on creating marine protected areas?

No. Canada is lagging behind badly (read more in our Oceans Report). At the moment, only 1.3% of Canada’s ocean territory is legally protected as MPAs. This is substantially behind other nations, such as the United States or Australia, which have committed to protecting nearly a third of their ocean territories. The United Kingdom has just designated the largest MPA on Earth at the Pitcairn Islands (read more), at nearly one million square kilometres. Canada has agreed to protect 10% of its ocean territory by 2020, but the current pace of MPA designations means Canada is so slow that we will likely miss this target. 

What might a marine protected area network for the Bay of Fundy look like?

An effective network of marine protected areas in the Bay of Fundy would need to conserve the most ecologically significant areas, including a combination of larger sites in the outer Bay of Fundy and smaller sites closer to shore toward the Inner Bay. The MPA network would need to include areas where whales congregate, as well as important bird areas, rich mudflats and some tidal estuaries. Selecting the location of the marine protected areas must be based upon best available science, and must be done in an inclusive way with a genuine dialogue with local communities, including the tourism sector, inshore fishermen, and academic researchers working on the Bay.

How can I help?

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