Marine Ecoregions of North America: a tool for ocean conservation

December 17, 2009

Montreal--North America's marine ecosystems harbor an incredible array of biodiversity and natural resources and provide us with ecological services that benefit our societies. But they are under threat as never before, especially from pollution and overharvesting. Understanding these ecosystems and their marine environment is the first step in managing and conserving them better for future generations.

Marine Ecoregions of North America, a new book produced by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), is a joint effort of American, Canadian and Mexican ecologists, marine biologists, geographers and managers. It classifies North America's oceans and coastal waters into 24 ecological regions according to oceanographic features and geographically distinct groups of species. Through maps, photos and detailed information on habitats, ecosystems and human activities, the book describes the oceans from the Beaufort Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, covering the continent's territorial waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

"Different marine ecosystems function in different ways, so knowing where ecosystems are is essential for managing and preserving our oceans. Until now we didn't know their boundaries on a continental scale," said Elliott Norse, President of Marine Conservation Biology Institute, a contributing US-based research and conservation organization. "For the first time, this book maps the underlying ecological patterns in the seas surrounding North America and will help Canada, Mexico and the United States to do comprehensive, ecosystem-based marine management."

As a tool, Marine Ecoregions of North America provides a science-based framework for many facets of marine conservation, including research, policy initiatives and management decisions, international coordination, and education. The 24 marine ecoregions were defined and mapped through a system of classification intended to create consistent, standardized and understandable units out of the vastness of the continent's ocean and coastal waters.

"North America's marine ecosystems transcend national boundaries and this book gives us a framework for collaborative conservation efforts," said Hans Herrmann, CEC's senior program manager for biodiversity. "Already, the work done to identify these marine ecoregions has led to the identification of priority conservation areas along North America's Pacific Coast and laid the foundation to establish a North American Marine Protected Areas Network."
For more information or to download an electronic version of the book, please visit: Printed copies of the book are available upon request to, but quantities are limited.

This unprecedented effort to promote a better understanding of our oceans has been possible thanks to the collaboration of numerous authors and organizations as well as the generous contributions of the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (Conanp), Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (Conabio), and Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE) in Mexico; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States; and Parks Canada.

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.

Commission for Environmental Cooperation

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