The federal government is moving forward on a plan to protect underwater mountains and hydrothermal vents off the coast of British Columbia. Isabelle Raghem reports. 

The Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans announced Wednesday that there will be a new area of interest (AOI) off the coast of the island, with the intention to make it a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by 2020. It would be one of the largest MPAs in Canada.

“What this identified is that the federal government has really payed attention to marine scientists saying ‘this is worth protecting and now it’s part of ocean policy’,” says Richard Dewey, Associate Director of Ocean Networks Canada. 

The identified area is approximately 140,000 square kilometres and is located west of Vancouver Island, at the edge of Canadian waters.

“This area is the largest area identified in all of Canadian marine waters and we border three oceans. So that’s pretty significant,” says Dewey. 

It has a seamount, or underwater mountain, that rises more than 1,000 metres from the sea floor. It also contains hydrothermal vents. Discovered in 1982, the vents are chimney-like structures that release minerals from the Earth’s crust.

“What we don’t want to happen out there is marine mining or exploration or any activities that would harm the ecosystem and the species that live there. Some of the species may be unique to these area so we certainly want to protect them and look after them,” explains Dewey. 

The vents are home to a unique species of animals that have adapted to live in the harsh conditions.

The government will now work on creating final boundaries and activities restrictions needed for an MPA with provincial and territorial partners, First Nations groups and stakeholders.

The Government of Canada has previously announced plans to reach domestic and international targets of protecting five per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020.

Alexa Huffman