Conservationists slam Ottawa's decision to allow industrial activity in Laurentian Channel

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The federal government's decision to allow industrial activity inside its newest proposed marine protected area has raised the ire of scientists and environmentalists.

On Friday, Ottawa released the draft regulations for the Laurentian Channel, located off Newfoundland's southwest coast.

At just under 12,000 square kilometres, the Laurentian Channel marine protected area would be the largest in Canada — and the third protected area in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The province's other protected areas are Gilbert Bay and Eastport.

The channel is home to the endangered leatherback sea turtle, various species of shark, the Northern wolfish, coral, as well as the highest population and only pupping grounds of black dogfish in Canada.

The area is more than twice the size of Prince Edward Island.

Sabine Jessen, who directs the Ocean Program with the Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society in Vancouver, says she's disappointed that oil and gas activities will be permitted in the newly proposed protected area.

"Industrial activities just don't belong in our protected areas. Marine protected areas are being designated to protect the ecological jewels of the ocean," said Jessen.

"If we can't prohibit industrial activities in the most sensitive areas of the ocean — then why are we doing this? We thought this government had a different view. We thought they were serious about protecting these areas in the marine environment."

Canada 'needs to step up'

A director with the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Switzerland, an organization that advises the United Nations on conservation matters, says Canada is not as strong on marine protection compared with other countries.

"I think there's [a] very good reason for these scientists to say that Canada needs to step up and do more," said Carl Gustaf Lundin. "We should put aside maybe 30 per cent of marine areas for conservation … and Canada today we're maybe at one per cent."

Canada currently protects just over 1.5 per cent of its marine areas. Under its international commitments, the country has to meet a five per cent target by the end of 2017, and 10 per cent by 2020.

Meanwhile, WWF-Canada issued a statement on Friday, strongly condemning the federal government's decision.

The organization has launched a campaign in an effort to keep future oil and gas development out of the Laurentian Channel.

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