Future-proofing Marine Protected Area Networks

Marine Protected Area networks and other spatial management tools offer an important strategy that forms a growing aspect of ocean governance. Marine Protected Areas are often designed to protect biodiversity, sustain or enhance productivity and critical habitat, maintain ocean health and provide insurance against sudden or drastic changes in the ecosystem and its resources. Canada is committed to expanding its Marine Protected Area coverage from ~1% to 10% by the year 2020. This research aims to complement existing efforts to help ‘future-proof’ such Marine Protected Area networks and other spatial management tools such as fisheries closures and critical habitat designations. By integrating observational data on shifting habitats and ecosystems with real-time remote sensing, animal movement, and vessel tracking data, this project will help to understand — and model — changes in ocean conditions, biological resources, and human use patterns relevant to Marine Protected Areas.

Project details

Principal Investigator(s):
Boris Worm, David VanderZwaag
Principal Investigator:
Project Start Date:
Project End Date:
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Research Outcomes

About the research project

About Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas limit certain uses of coastal or ocean regions in order to protect natural resources, biodiversity, or peoples’ livelihoods. They can also protect spiritual and cultural heritage, and support uses that help people understand and appreciate Canada’s marine resources.  

Determining where to best place Marine Protected Areas and how to  manage them in the face of changing climate and ocean conditions represents a major challenge. Climate change already  shifts ecosystem and species from their historical ranges, sometimes into poorly protected or otherwise unsuitable environments.  

Research objective: to make marine spatial management in the Northwest Atlantic responsive to the challenges of rapid environmental change and shifting ecosystems.  

Due to its more rapid rate of climate change, the Northwest Atlantic may be understood as as a global sentinel for ocean change. Researchers will use this region to test our understanding of management of marine ecosystem use and how management strategies can respond to accelerated environmental change. The results can inform ecosystem and fisheries management regionally, as well a provide a comprehensive toolbox for ‘climate-smart’ Marine Protected Area management in other parts of the globe.  

Research benefits

  1. Provide an integrated toolkit and decision-making framework for static versus dynamic management  
  2. Work towards a regional citizen-scientist observer base for ocean observation and monitoring  
  3. Develop novel statistical tools for dynamic modeling of changing conditions  
  4. Design novel legal tools for decision-making in a dynamic environmental context  

The research team

The leaders of this research program, both at Dalhousie University, are Boris Worm, Killam Research Professor in Marine Conservation , and David VanderZwaag, Canada Research Chair in Ocean Law and Governance.

Collaborating researchers

Dalhousie University:

  • Heike Lotze
  • Joanna Mills Flemming
  • Mike Dowd
  • Suzuette Soomai, emerging researcher
  • Kristina Boerder, Postdoctoral fellow
  • Daniel Boyce, Postdoctoral fellow
  • Olga Koubrak, PhD Candidate
  • Ethan Lawler, PhD candidate
  • Isabelle Jubinville, MSc candidate
  • Bethany Nordstroem, Research Associate
  • Kristen Wilson, Research Associate
  • Sophie Tattrie, Honors student

Memorial University of Newfoundland:

  • Paul Snelgrove

Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

  • Pierre Pepin (DFO Newfoundland)
  • Maxine Westhead (DFO Maritimes)
  • Claudio Dibacco (DFO Maritimes)
  • Katherine Hastings (DFO Maritimes)
  • Ryan Stanley (DFO Maritimes)
  • Susan Heaslip (DFO Maritimes)
  • Nick Jeffrey (DFO Maritimes)
  • Marie-Helene Theriault (DFO Gulf Region)
  • Carole Godin (DFO Gulf Region)
  • Jessica Mitchell (DFO Ottawa)

United Nations Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre:

  • Derek Tittensor, emerging researcher (UNEP-WCMC)

World Wildlife Fund:

  • Sigrid Kuehnemund and Aurelie Godin, emerging researcher

Industry (eOceans):

  • Christine Ward-Paige, emerging researcher
Boris Worm is a busy guy. In addition to being a co-lead researcher with OFI, Dr. Worm is actively involved in other scientific endeavours and lead role in advancing ocean literacy
  • Learn more his research onboard the Canada C3 Expedition, where he and his fellow scientists studied marine birds and mammal diversity.
  • Ocean School is a ground-breaking educational and public engagement initiative that uses innovative learning and storytelling techniques to foster ocean literacy. A joint initiative of Dalhousie University and the National Film Board of Canada, Ocean School focuses on ocean science, technology and innovation while also providing insight into the broader economic, social, environmental, and cultural dimensions of the human relationship with the marine environment.