Sustainable Development Success Stories

Sable Gully Conservation Strategy

Location  Canada
Responsible Organisation

Lead: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada (DFO);

Partner: Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board;

Other Participants: Dalhousie University; shipping, fishing and petroleum industries; other federal government departments (Geological Survey of Canada/Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service/Environment Canada); provincial government agencies (Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Nova Scotia Museum); and environmental organizations (World Wildlife Fund, Ecology Action Centre.


Canada’s Oceans Act (1997) commits the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to the conservation and protection of Canada’s marine environments according to the principles of sustainable development and the integrated management of activities in estuaries, coastal and marine waters; and the precautionary approach (that is, a commitment to err on the side of caution). Among its provisions for conservation, the Oceans Act authorizes the Minister to establish a national system of Marine Protected Areas and to develop ecosystem-based integrated management plans using consultative, participatory processes.

To reflect the principles of the Oceans Act, in 1997 DFO’s Maritimes Region Office initiated the development of the Sable Gully Conservation Strategy (SGCS), to identify conservation objectives and goals for the Sable Gully and to propose actions to guide future management measures.

The Sable Gully is a large and deep submarine canyon on the eastern Scotian Shelf, near Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Gully’s ecological characteristics have attracted the attention of government agencies and non-governmental organizations for a number of years. The SGCS is divided into three interconnected phases. In the first phase, from July 1997 to June 1998, the DFO funded and coordinated the description of the Gully environment and ecosystems and the identification of knowledge gaps by the multi-disciplinary Gully Science Review Team (composed of government and non-government scientists). The SGCS document was then developed through a consultation process, including representatives of fisheries organizations and the petroleum industry, in order to determine conservation goals and objectives for the Gully. The implementation of the SGCS (released December 1998) recommendations will be facilitated by a socio-economic profile of the Gully, commissioned by DFO.

Issues Addressed Conservation and protection of Oceans and Seas, marine protected areas, integrated management, consultation and participation, scientific review, oil and gas development and marine fisheries.
Results Achieved

The SGCS has built upon the information, successes and lessons learned from previous and ongoing conservation and development within the ecosystem. These include:

conservation initiatives of several federal government agencies,
recommendations of the Sable Offshore Energy Project Joint Public Review Panel,
development of a "Code of Practice" by Sable Offshore Energy Inc. for oil and gas development,
ongoing activities of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board class environmental screening procedure for seismic exploration.

SGCS articulated the conservation objective for the Sable Gully ecosystem as the need to "conserve and protect the natural biological diversity and integrity of the Sable Gully ecosystem to ensure its long-term health and sustainable use". The document also outlined several conservation goals, including planning for sustainable ‘multiple use’ of the ecosystem. As SGCS recommended, a core area within the Gully has been designated a Pilot Project under DFO’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Program. As an "Area of Interest" the Gully will receive interim protection measures through the restriction of new activities in and around the core area while efforts continue to secure its long-term conservation. A complementary Pilot Project for Integrated Management (IM) on the Eastern Scotian Shelf will operationalize the principles of the Oceans Act for the greater ecosystem. This initiative is also considering a system plan for MPAs on the Scotian Shelf.

Lessons Learned The ecosystem-based approach adopted by DFO for the Sable Gully represents a significant departure from more traditional single-species management strategies. To address the complexities and realities of this new system, DFO’s MPAs and IM Programs have adopted a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach. Although this approach has raised the level of stakeholder uncertainty concerning the status of traditional management measures and their prioritization within an interconnected framework, it should ultimately improve the fairness, equitability and sustainability of decision-making. The MPAs and IM Programs emphasize the need to consider conservation through an integrated planning strategy that evaluates both the environmental benefits of conservation and its socio-economic effects on local communities, marine fisheries and other industries. While DFO has maintained a leadership role throughout the SGCS, a strong participatory component has successfully drawn representatives of user and interest groups to the process. While important differences remain among participating stakeholders, all of them have committed significant time and energy to the process. The exchange of ideas between participants may develop mutual understanding that leads to informed compromise and better stewardship of the ocean environment. As the next step of this continuing process, "working teams" comprised of representatives of key government agencies, users and interest groups in the area will be established to implement various aspects of the SGCS.

Ms. Helen Joseph,
National Coordinator, Marine Protected Areas Program
Marine Ecosystems Conservation Branch
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6
E-mail: Josephh@dfo-mpo.gc.ca