This is the 10th post in our Dare to Be Deep series, which aims to raise awareness about some of the places MEC and CPAWS would like to see become federally-protected marine areas by the end of 2012. There’s still one $200 MEC Gift Card to be won as part of the Dare to Be Deep campaign (more on that below). For this installment, let’s head to The Rock and discover the Laurentian Channel.
A deep submarine valley that’s more than 1200km long, the Laurentian Channel extends from the intersection of the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers to the edge of the continental shelf off Newfoundland. Deepened by ice streams during the ice age, the channel was the conduit for huge volumes of meltwater and sediment, much of which was transported off the shelf edge and into deep water. The Laurentian Channel reaches depths up to 550m, and its depth means it acts as a break that separates several stocks of shallow-water fish species.
Holy biodiversity, Batman!
The Laurentian Channel supports the largest concentration of black dogfish in Canada, and is the only location where pupping occurs. It’s also home to deep-water corals; it’s the only known wintering area for cod and some entire groundfish populations; and it’s a spawning ground for many different fish species. The channel is a critical migration route and major feeding area for marine mammals moving in and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and is a breeding area for many seabirds.
Many at risk species can be found in the channel, including harbour porpoises, blue whales, Atlantic cod, and northern and Atlantic wolffish. Then there’s the phytoplankton and bioplankton that gather in large numbers in the region, and a slew of invertebrates such as soft corals, sea anemones, Icelandic scallops, shortfin squid, lesser bobtail squid, northern Atlantic octopus, northern shrimp, lobsters, heart urchins, mud sea stars, deep sea brittle stars, sea pens, stone crabs, and deep sea king crabs.
Not only has the Laurentian Channel and Slope been identified as an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but a 1992 survey determined that it contains the highest levels of biodiversity off the shore of Newfoundland. I’d say that warrants protection, wouldn’t you?
What’s the problem?
Various threats put the channel’s marine life at risk, but most of them seem related to resource extraction, such as fishing or oil and gas development. With regards to fishing, the main problems are bottom trawling, midwater trawling, gillnetting, and longlining. In oil and gas development, there’s the actual drilling, but also issues like submarine cables, vessel traffic, ship strikes, seismic surveys, oil spills, and harmful species from ballast water exchange.
In light of the 2012 federal budget, CPAWS is concerned whether long-term funding will be available to local communities, government scientists, and independent scientists to implement the management and research necessary to ensure that these sites will provide long-term protection for marine biodiversity.
CPAWS has been working with government and local conservation groups to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Laurentian Channel. The federal government formally identified this region as an area of interest for an Oceans Act MPA in 2010. Since then, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been convening an Advisory Committee, which includes CPAWS, for the area of interest. This committee is tasked with advising the government on conservation objectives, boundary, and management measures for the proposed MPA. The establishment process is expected to continue through 2013.
According to an interim report published in May, some progress has been made, which is encouraging. However, CPAWS is concerned that while planning continues for this site and the 11 others that are part of the Dare to Be Deep campaign, interim protection measures are not being put in place to ensure that ecological values are not further compromised by the myriad activities occurring in Canada’s oceans — including shipping, industrial fishing, and oil, gas, and mineral activities. We’re on the right track, but there is still lots of work to be done.
What can you do?
There are a few things you can do to help protect the Laurentian Channel. It’s not too late for you to sign the petition asking the federal government to establish 12 new MPAs by the end of this year. There’s still one $200 MEC Gift Card up for grabs as a prize, and every person who signs the petition is automatically entered into the draw. You can also spread the word on Facebook or Twitter and encourage your friends and family to add their names to the list.
If you really want to make a difference, write to the Federal Government and urge representatives to protect the Laurentian Channel, or any of the other 11 areas targeted by the Dare to Be Deep campaign.
Those of you interested in finding out what happens will want to check back with CPAWS in January when they release their final campaign report.