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In the official terminology of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) a marine protected area is “any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain together with its overlying waters and associated fauna, flora and historical and cultural features which has been reserved by legislation to manage and protect part or all of the enclosed environment”.

In simple language, this means that a marine protected area (mpa) is an area with special, or different, status than areas around it. It means that the types of activities that are permitted in the water and on the sea bottom are different than the surrounding area.

As of 2010, there are over 4,000 mpas designated worldwide, each established for their own reasons. They vary greatly in size and in the types of activities that are allowed within them. Although the number of mpas may seem large, in total, they occupy less than 1% of the world’s ocean. For more information read The ABCs of MPAs.

In British Columbia, existing marine areas under some form of legislated protection comprise only 2% of BC's marine environment. Four permanent marine protected areas that do exist are Whytecliff Marine Park (est. 1993) near Vancouver, Race Rocks (est. 2000) south-east of Victoria, the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents (est. 2003) west of southern Vancouver Island and Bowie Seamount (est. 2008), 180km west of Haida Gwaii. On June 17th, 2010, Parks Canada, DFO & the Council of the Haida Nation announced the establishment of the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. This protected area extends approximately 10km offshore from Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Gwaii Haanas is currently the only place on Earth to be protected from mountain top to sea floor.

One National Marine Conservation Area, the Southern Straight of Georgia, and one National Marine Wildlife Area off Scott Islands Provincial Park at the north end of Vancouver Island are currently proposed. Temporary marine protected areas that change over time and area, occur in the form of fisheries closures throughout British Columbia waters.

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