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The Americans ‘bench, scientists’ playground

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It was in March 2019 that the 1000 km2 sea slope, located between Forillon and Bonaventure Island, officially obtained the status of marine protected area.

It was designated a Site of Interest in 2011.

To demonstrate its ecological value, this territory was the subject of initial characterizations around 2009. Several consultations with the communities and other research work followed before reaching its status as a protected area.

But the work doesn’t stop there.

Quite the contrary, since, after completing the characterization work, Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists must now ensure that the protective measures are effective.

A blue whale.

The particular configuration of the site, the richness of nutrients and the diversity of habitats attract an abundant fauna, among which we find several species in decline.

Photo: AFP / Reuters

The conservation measures had three objectives, recalls Renée Gagné, of the Marine Planning and Conservation Division of Fisheries and Oceans, responsible for the management of the marine protected area of ​​the American Bank.

We wanted to protect the seabed, therefore benthic habitat, pelagic habitat, therefore the water column, and restore endangered species, including whales and sea bass, continues the manager. So, with all that, we are discussing conservation measures that will allow us to protect what we want to protect, to achieve our conservation objectives.

Seabed imagery

Many of the work carried out upstream of the designation is continuing in order to ensure the ecological monitoring of the species and sites that the ministry wishes to protect, indicates Geneviève Faille, biologist in aquatic sciences, at the Department of Sciences of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Ridge, steep cliffs, plains: the seabed of the Banc des Américains brings together a diversity of habitats which makes it a particularly rich place for observation.

This area is frequented by many threatened or endangered fish species, such as Atlantic Wolffish, Spotted Wolffish, and Northern Wolffish, as well as large marine mammals with declining or threatened populations, including whales. North Atlantic Blue Whales and Right Whales.

Geneviève Faille, who works mainly on protected areas and conservation areas, leads, among other things, an underwater imaging program.

Research documents the seabed with videos and photos using different tools. Thus, a benthic sled equipped with cameras is towed on the bottom by a ship. Cameras are placed on different parts of the ridge which are more fragile. The images reveal not only the characteristics of the seabed but also the presence and abundance of species.

Starfish.

Researchers take photos and video images that allow them to explore the seabed of the American Bank.

Photo: Courtesy: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Other colleagues are also working with imagery, but with bait, which makes it possible to capture images of fish and other mobile species.

The land is vast. Scientists have tried to explore different areas over the years.

These imaging studies, which began in 2012, are becoming more sophisticated. We are in the process of targeting monitoring sites where teams would return over the years to take inventory., explains Geneviève Faille.

The teams could therefore, every two or three years, monitor the evolution of populations and species. We are here in the long search time. It may take ten years, twenty years, before having an answer on the evolution of communities on the merits, comments the biologist.

Other data

The American Bank is part of the collection sectors of the Atlantic Zone Monitoring Program (PMZA). The data collected by the program, such as water temperature and salinity, are used to characterize the habitat and are integrated into scientific monitoring.

Conducted among other things in scuba diving, other research focuses on endangered species such as the Atlantic wolf in order to detect their presence in their potential habitat.

Tests ofDeoxyribonucleic acid are also carried out in water samples taken in the protected area in order to detect the presence of the wolf.

One place, two zones

On the map, the American Bank is delimited by an immense square, the eastern face of which starts from Forillon Point and extends to the west of Bonaventure Island. From the Forillon point, two almost rectilinear diagonals start out which cross the area from east to west. It is in this first zone that the ridge is located.

This zone 1 is entirely protected from all commercial activity while certain activities, in particular crab fishing and the observation of mammals, remain permitted in zone 2, which constitutes the rest of the protected area.

A map of the American Bank.

The 1,000 km2 territory was officially designated as a protected area in March 2019.

Photo: Extract from Fisheries and Oceans Canada website

In addition to scientific monitoring and commercial tourism, only educational activities and, possibly, habitat redevelopment tasks remain possible on the marine territory.

However, apart from fishing, all these activities must be authorized in advance.

Protection and awareness

These are fishery officers who patrol the area, either by plane or by boat, explains Renée Gagné. They can also analyze different fishing data to ensure follow-up., details the person in charge.

Adequate protection of species that frequent the American Shoal can have beneficial effects on the resources of the entire sector. If we manage to protect the sector well, it can have an effect that we call a little overflow, indicates Renée Gagné, manager of the Marine Protected Area of ​​the American Bank.

A better understanding of the role played by protected areas remains a key factor in their success. The more we talk about it, believes Renée Gagné, the more people will be concerned by the preservation of these sectors, which we must protect for the future.

In its boxes, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is considering the creation of other marine protected areas in the St.Lawrence, among others the ambitious project to protect the entire estuary as well as the project to preserve the 11 sites already designated. coral and sponge conservation areas in 2017.

A project also exists in the Magdalen Islands, but it is overseen by Parks Canada, which already manages, jointly with Quebec, the Saguenay – Saint-Laurent marine park.

In Canada, 13.9% of Canadian marine territories are protected by conservation status. Ottawa aims to increase this proportion to 25% by 2025 and to 30% by 2030.

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