Canada's protected areas

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Protected areas are lands and waters where use is limited for the purpose of conserving nature.Footnote [1] Protection does not always isolate areas from use, including industrial activity and the harvest of biological resources. Nature conservation, however, must be the primary purpose.

Key results

  • As of the end of 2016,
    • 10.5% (1.05 million square kilometres [km2]) of Canada's terrestrial area (land and freshwater), and 0.96% (55 000 km2) of its marine territory are protected.
    • 514 000 km2 are protected by the federal government, a slight decrease from 5 years earlier, reflecting the transfer of lands to provincial and territorial jurisdiction.Footnote [2]
  • In the past 20 years, the total area protected has increased by almost 70%. Over the last 5 years, it has increased by 8%.

Trends in proportion of area protected, Canada, 1990 to 2016

Two line chart. Upper line showing Chanad's terrestrial protected area and lower showing marine protected area - long description below.

Long description

The upper line of the chart shows the percentage of Canada's terrestrial protected area (land and freshwater) between 1990 and 2016. The lower line of the chart shows the percentage of Canada's marine protected area between 1990 and 2016.

Data for this chart
Trends in proportion of area protected, Canada, 1990 to 2016
YearTerrestrial area protected (square kilometres)Percentage of terrestrial area protectedMarine area protected (square kilometres)Percentage of marine area protected
1990547 9055.519 7430.34
1991548 4085.519 7620.34
1992563 7345.620 1860.35
1993578 3845.820 4270.36
1994581 8895.820 4320.36
1995613 5446.122 1990.39
1996631 1556.323 0610.40
1997643 1156.423 0820.40
1998673 5116.723 8250.41
1999696 3517.024 0580.42
2000706 1097.124 1580.42
2001728 8097.324 1890.42
2002736 9327.424 3920.42
2003793 4487.927 5930.48
2004803 1418.029 9910.52
2005829 7598.331 4100.55
2006836 4408.431 7700.55
2007862 7928.631 9630.56
2008914 2829.240 8410.71
2009942 6709.441 3960.72
2010950 2039.550 5830.88
2011974 6319.850 6710.88
2012991 1699.950 6730.88
20131 024 93010.351 3210.89
20141 026 90610.351 3210.89
20151 049 94210.552 6670.92
20161 052 64210.555 0250.96

Note: The terrestrial territory of Canada is 9 984 670 km2 and its marine territory is approximately 5 750 000 km2. Overlaps between protected areas were corrected for.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.70 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Terrestrial areas include both land and freshwater. Areas with an unknown creation date are assumed to have been protected before 1990. Only areas recognized as protected under international standards are included.
Source: Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2017) Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS), with Quebec data used by permission. Data are current as of December 31, 2016.

More information

Although the distribution and size of individual protected areas is highly variable across Canada, the total represents an area close to the size of Ontario. Larger protected areas tend to be located in northern Canada where the extent of agriculture, settlement, road networks and other land uses is less.

Protected areas, Canada, 2016

Map of Canada showing the distribution and size of terrestrial and marine protected areas in 2016 - long description below.

Long description

The map of Canada shows the distribution and size of terrestrial (land and freshwater) protected areas and marine protected areas in 2016.

Navigate data using the interactive map

How this indicator was calculated

Source: Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2017) Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS). Data are current as of December 31, 2016.

Well-managed protected areas are one way to conserve wild species and their habitats for present and future generations. Internationally, countries have agreed to a target of conserving at least 17% of land area and 10% of marine area by 2020. Canada has pledged to work towards this target.  

Laws or agreements limit the amount and type of human activity in protected lands and waters. Protected areas may be chosen to represent parts of the Canadian landscape or seascape, such as the boreal forest or an ocean shelf, or they may be created to conserve endangered wildlife species, wildlife habitats, and unique or ecologically sensitive areas.

Terrestrial protected areas, by province and territory

Key result

  • The proportion of terrestrial area (land and freshwater) protected varies by province and territory, ranging from 3.2% in Prince Edward Island to 15.3% in British Columbia

Total percentage of terrestrial area protected by province and territory, Canada, 2016

Column chart shows the percentage of terrestrial area protected in each province and territory in 2016 - long description below.

Long description

The column chart shows the percentage of terrestrial (land and freshwater) area protected in each province and territory in 2016.

Data for this chart
Total percentage of terrestrial area protected by province and territory, Canada, 2016
Province or territoryProvincial or territorial area (square kilometres)Area protected (square kilometres)Percentage of province or territory protected
British Columbia944 735144 85815.3
Alberta661 84883 14012.6
Nova Scotia55 284651311.8
Yukon482 44356 33411.7
Manitoba647 79771 13911.0
Ontario1 076 395114 47010.6
Nunavut2 093 190211 29910.1
Quebec1 512 418150 58810.0
Northwest Territories1 346 106125 6579.3
Saskatchewan651 03655 6548.5
Newfoundland and Labrador405 21229 4727.3
New Brunswick72 90833784.6
Prince Edward Island56601803.2

Note: Terrestrial areas include both land and freshwater.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.08 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Areas include land and freshwater but not marine areas. Not all provinces and territories report on protected areas that are privately owned.
Source: Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2017) Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS). Data are current as of December 31, 2016.

More information

British  Columbia has protected 15.3% of its terrestrial area and Alberta protects 12.6% of its territory. Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have less than 8% protected. The remaining provinces and territories have between 9% and 12% of their territory protected.

Each province has set aside areas for protection and progress towards conservation protection targets varies by jurisdiction. The area protected by Nova Scotia has increased rapidly in recent years as a result of the province's efforts in meeting the goal of protecting12% of the province by 2015.

Marine protected areas, by jurisdiction

Marine protected areas are a key management tool that contributes to the improved health, integrity and productivity of our marine ecosystems.

Key results

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada manages two types of protected areas: National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. In 2016, it protected the greatest proportion of Canada's protected marine territory.
    • the Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, with more than 6500 square kilometres (km2) of marine habitat, is the largest single marine area protected in Canada as of December 2016.
  • Marine protected area increased by more than 2300 km2 in 2016: protection of Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam in 2016 by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in collaboration with the Inuvialuit contributed most of this increase. 

Marine area protected by jurisdiction, Canada, 2016

Column chart showing the amount of marine protected area including coastal protected areas - long description below.

Long description

The column chart shows the amount of marine protected area including coastal protected areas held by different jurisdictions. The proportion of protected marine territory is indicated above each column. The sum of percentages protected is higher than 100 due to overlap between jurisdictions.

Data for this chart
Marine area protected by jurisdiction, Canada, 2016
JurisdictionMarine protected area (square kilometres)Percentage of total protected
Provincial subtotal10 27718.7
  Quebec5377
  British Columbia4650
  Atlantic provinces170
  Manitoba80
Fisheries and Oceans Canada12 75123.2
Parks Canada13 72324.9
Environment and Climate Change Canada19 61635.6
Correction for overlaps between jurisdictions

-1342

 

Grand total55 025

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 823 B)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The percentages on top of each bar represent the share of geographic area protected by each jurisdiction. Percentages add up to more than 100 due to overlap between jurisdictions.
Source: Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2017) Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS). Data are current as of December 31, 2016.

More information

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada each have specific but complementary mandates for establishing marine protected areas:

  • Oceans Act Marine Protected Areas (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) are established to protect and conserve marine species and their habitats, including for species that are fished, endangered or threatened marine species, unique habitats and areas of high biological productivity or biodiversity.
  • National Marine Conservation Areas (Parks Canada) are established to protect and conserve representative examples of Canada's natural and cultural marine heritage and provide opportunities for public education and enjoyment.
  • Marine National Wildlife Areas (Environment and Climate Change Canada) are established to protect and conserve habitat for a variety of wildlife including migratory birds and endangered species.

These departments contribute to the Marine Protected Area (MPA) network, which has a goal of providing long-term protection of marine biodiversity, ecosystem function and special natural features.

The different jurisdictionsFootnote [3] protect areas for different purposes, and control the amount of human activity (such as transportation, fishing or recreation) that is allowed. Marine conservation efforts include a wide range of management and stewardship activities. Examples include fisheries areas closures to protect vulnerable ecosystems, support for the recovery of species at risk, prevention and mitigation of the impact of aquatic invasive species, and strengthening of Canada's response to ship-source marine pollution.

Protected Areas, by Ecological Region

Ecozones are regions with distinct or characteristic ecological features, such as climate and vegetation.

Key results

  • Three ecozones, the Tundra Cordillera, the Pacific Maritime and the Arctic Cordillera, have more than 20% of their terrestrial area protected
  • The Northern Shelf, in the Pacific Ocean, is the marine ecozoneFootnote [4] with the largest protected proportion (7%)
  • 13% of the Canadian area of the Great Lakes is protected

Percentage of ecozones protected, Canada, 2016

Map shows the percentage of each protected ecozone - long description below.

Long description

The map shows the percentage of each protected ecozone. The Pacific Maritime, Arctic Cordillera and Tundra Cordillera ecological regions have the largest proportions of protected area. Less than 1% of the Arctic Basin, Hudson Bay Complex, Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves and Scotian Shelf marine regions are protected.

Data for this map
Percentage of ecozones protected, Canada, 2016
Map labelEcozone nameEcozone area (square kilometres)Area protected (square kilometres)Percentage of region protected
L01Arctic Cordillera233 61853 69823.0
L02Northern Arctic1 481 480105 5967.1
L03Southern Arctic957 139152 82916.0
L04Taiga Plains554 01438 1606.9
L05Taiga Shield1 322 786105 9168.0
L06Boreal Shield1 897 362179 3799.5
L07Atlantic Maritime110 59088688.0
L08Mixedwood Plains116 20621021.8
L09Boreal Plains779 47159 0047.6
L10Prairies465 99027 3945.9
L11Montane Cordillera437 76180 12518.3
L12Pacific Maritime216 94252 37124.1
L13Boreal Cordillera557 93796 58217.3
L14Taiga Cordillera231 16119 0348.2
L15Hudson Plains350 69343 75812.5
L16Tundra Cordillera28 980713424.6
L17Atlantic Highlands93 01736894.0
L18Semi-Arid Plateaux56 43452669.3
W01Strait of Georgia89694264.8
W02Southern Shelf28 1587852.8
W03Offshore Pacific315 72462002.0
W04Northern Shelf101 66371417.0
W05Arctic Basin752 0531650.02
W06Western Arctic539 80712 0602.2
W07Arctic Archipelago268 79234451.3
W08Eastern Arctic782 63686291.1
W09Hudson Bay Complex1 244 67087000.7
W10Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves1 041 5882150.02
W11Scotian Shelf416 29623990.6
W12Gulf of Saint Lawrence246 64848542.0
W13Great Lakes88 25011 67213.2

Note: Ecozones are numbered and coded with an L for terrestrial regions and W for aquatic regions.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.81 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Source: Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2017) Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS). Data are current as of December 31, 2016. For Ecozones, Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2014) Canada Ecozones V5b.

More information

Terrestrial ecozones with high levels of urbanization and development or widespread agriculture tend to have small proportions of protected area. For example, the Mixedwood Plains (southern Ontario and along the St. Lawrence River) has only 1.8% of its area protected and the Prairies has 6%.

On the other hand, terrestrial ecozones with a high proportion of protected area tend to be remote or have high recreation value. For example, ecozones in the western mountain ranges have 17% or more of their area protected.

Marine areas have not benefited from as long a tradition of protection. Except for the Northern Shelf off the coast of British Columbia proportion of marine ecozones protected ranges 0.02% to 4.8%.

Each ecozone is unique, and protection involves the inclusion of areas that are representative of different parts of the ecozone and sites of special value. Challenges to establishing protected areas include competition from other uses, such as agriculture, industry or living space, and may be limited by the extent of ecologically intact areas within the ecozone.

About the indicators

What do the indicators measure

The protected areas indicators report the amount and proportion of Canada's terrestrial (land and freshwater) and marine area that is recognized under the international definition of a protected area as "a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values."Footnote [5] Land and/or water access, use and activities within the protected area are controlled, primarily for the purpose of conserving biodiversity, regardless of proprietary designation (for example, park, conservation area or wildlife reserve).

Why are these indicators important

The amount of area protected is a measure of human response to the loss of biodiversity and natural habitat. As protected area in Canada increases, more lands and waters are withdrawn from direct human development stresses, thereby contributing to biodiversity conservation and improving the health of ecosystems. In turn, healthy ecosystems provide benefits such as clean water, mitigation of climate change and disease, and improved human health.

Many countries use protected areas as the core of their programs to preserve biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services. The parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, among them Canada, have set an aspirational target to conserve at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 10% of marine areas, by 2020.Footnote [6] This is one of 20 targets collectively known as the Aichi Targets established in October 2010.

Protected areas also contribute to Target 14.5 "By 2020, conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information" and Target 15.1 "By  2020,  ensure  the  conservation,  restoration  and  sustainable  use  of  terrestrial  and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements" of the Sustainable Development Goals  of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The main indicator supports the measurement of progress towards two targets of the 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy:

  • By 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland water are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures
  • By 2020, 10% of coastal and marine areas are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures

It also contributes towards reporting on Target 1 of the 2020 Biodiversity target for Canada: "By 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures."

The Government of Canada has also set an interim target to conserve 5% of marine and coastal areas by 2017.

What are the related indicators

Ecological integrity of national parks reports on the condition of national parks, an important element of Canada's protected areas.

Global trends in protected areas compares Canada's protected area to a peer group of countries.

 

G6 Healthy coasts and oceans

This indicator supports the measurement of progress towards the following 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy long-term goals: coasts and oceans support healthy, resilient and productive ecosystems.

G8 Sustainably managed lands and forests

This indicator supports the measurement of progress towards the following 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy long-term goals: lands and forests support biodiversity and provide a variety of ecosystem services for generations to come.

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