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New online map shows network of protection for North America's marine ecosystems

North America's nearly 2,000 marine protected areas represent an unprecedented effort to protect the continent's fragile marine environments and are found throughout the marine ecoregions that encircle our continent.

The latest map from the North American Environmental Atlas—coordinated by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)—for the first time brings together information about all types of marine protected areas in Canada, Mexico and the United States, offering details about protection status and those responsible to manage the sites.

A functional network of marine protected areas is crucial for maintaining ecological integrity and protecting migratory species and transboundary habitats. They are also important to help ecosystems recover from or adapt to a wide variety of threats, including pollution from oil spills, overexploitation and rapidly changing environmental conditions.

"North Americans are particularly reliant upon oceans. At the same time, human economic activity is driving changes profoundly affecting the integrity and balance of our marine ecosystems, with serious habitat destruction, wildlife impacts and loss of biodiversity. Greater knowledge and collaboration are essential elements in safeguarding these priceless ecosystems," said Evan Lloyd, CEC Executive Director.

Different levels of protection in North America's marine ecoregions

In meeting the extraordinary challenge of protecting North America's rich and fragile marine ecosystems, the map shows the important strides Canada, Mexico and the United States have made in establishing protected areas. However, challenges remain to ensure that adequate protection and management extends throughout all ecoregions. Although some ecoregions have limited number of protected areas the Alaskan/Fjordland Pacific ecoregion, for example, has protected areas covering almost 80 percent of the ecoregion. Likewise, the Northern Gulf of Mexico ecoregion has more than 250 protected areas.

Map tools and resources for teachers, students and others

To celebrate this week's World Oceans Day, the CEC has brought together tools and resources to help decision makers, industry, universities and other learning institutions, as well as concerned citizens, better understand North America's shared ocean resources. These maps and publications include:

A new map viewer using Google Earth to explore all of the Atlas' marine ecosystems maps and data.

Marine Ecoregions of North America: a set of maps and detailed descriptions that provide a platform for sound management and conservation of marine biodiversity.

Baja California to the Bering Sea: an assessment of 28 priority conservation areas requiring concerted conservation action along North America's West Coast.

Conservation action plans for four marine species of common concern for North America: vaquita porpoise, humpback whale, leatherback turtle and pink-footed shearwater.

To explore the CEC's marine information and view an introductory video, please visit:

The marine protected areas information is provided by the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (, Quebec's Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks (, Mexico's Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (, and the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an international organization created under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) by Canada, Mexico and the United States to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts and promote the effective enforcement of environmental law. NAAEC complements the environmental provisions established in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to which it is a side accord.

Eduardo Viadas | EurekAlert!
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