Marine conservation that is led by or that involves Indigenous Peoples requires protecting vital community resources and traditional territories and strengthening broader conservation initiatives around the world. A Marine Protected Area (MPA) “is part of the ocean that is legally protected and managed to achieve the long-term conservation of nature.“ Indigenous Marine Protected Areas also connect marine conservation efforts with Indigenous cultural values and Indigenous self-determination.

Strategies undertaken by Indigenous communities to protect coastal waters and marine life include:

  • traditional resource management.
  • environmental conservation.
  • data collection and monitoring.
  • networking and collaboration with non-Indigenous supporters.
  • reinvestment into education and strengthening community building.

Indigenous Marine Protected Areas in Canada have involved co-management among First Nations’ and Canadian governments. For example, MPAs, that are a part of the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative, are co-managed by the Council of the Haida Nation with the Government of Canada, according to what values the Indigenous communities want to be protected. Values may include supporting food security; protecting coastal areas and species; protecting coastal jobs; and keeping ecosystems productive and resilient.

Networks have enabled First Nations to effectively plan for the ongoing protection of marine areas by creating specific zones to limit activities for community use or halt all activities to prevent fishing. For example, The MPA Network of the BC Northern Shelf is a “collection of individual marine protected areas that operates cooperatively and synergistically, at various spatial scales, and with a range of protection levels, in order to fulfill ecological aims more effectively and comprehensively than individual sites could alone.” Network planning on the BC Northern Shelf began in 2011 with the National Framework for Canada’s Marine Protected Areas and it now involves a partnership of multiple First Nations, the BC Provincial government, and the Canadian government.

The Eastern Shore Islands (ESI) of Nova Scotia is “an area of interest for MPA establishment.” Mi’kmaq communities are seeking out ways that they can become more involved in the governance of MPAs in Atlantic Canada. However, the systemic barriers to enhancing the inclusion of Mi’kmaq Peoples alongside non-Mi’kmaq peoples involve “limited understanding of Mi’kmaq culture, governance, and rights.” In turn, the establishment of a Marine Protected Area in the Eastern Shore Islands is also linked to the resurgence of Mi’kmaq culture and Indigenous ways of knowing.

Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan was implemented in November 2016. As a $1.5 billion initiative, the Oceans Protection Plan is designed to provide protection to coastal regions and waterways and promote economic growth across Canada. In its first five years, the Oceans Protection Plan has funded various pilot projects, implemented in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to address marine safety, marine emergency response training, enhanced situational awareness through web-based platforms, environmental protection priorities, and create Indigenous-led Coast Guard Auxiliary Chapters.

While information available about Marine Protected Areas focuses heavily on co-management initiatives among Indigenous and local non-Indigenous communities, more examples are needed of marine protection initiatives that highlight Indigenous-led practices and that prioritize values of Indigenous Peoples.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Photo Credit: Sharissa Johnson, Unsplash)

On March 4, 2023, the United Nations passed the High Seas Treaty to protect all parts of the world’s oceans defined by international law as “the high seas.” Up until then, only 1% of the high seas, an area where all countries had “a right to fish, ship and do research,” was protected from exploitation. It took over a decade for the UN High Seas Treaty to be developed as a legal instrument of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The treaty is getting praise from diverse groups for its potential to prevent further loss of species at risk, and biodiversity loss, in general; however, the treaty is not yet at the stage of implementation.

The area covered by the UN High Seas Treaty has significant impact on the climate. The high seas “takes up 90% of the excess heat and around 25% of the CO2  generated by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels.” The treaty intends to protect the high seas from the ongoing effects of climate change such as pollution and ocean acidification, as well as the threats of overfishing and other forms of resource extraction. The treaty also aligns with the UN’s COP 15 Global Biodiversity Framework, established in December 2022; member nations agreed to “30 x 30” – that is, protecting 30% of the ocean, coastal areas, and lands by 2030.

The Carbon Brief offers more details as to the development, content, and next steps for the Treaty.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Abigail Lynn, Unsplash)