Conservation Efforts

Bottlenose whales in the Gully MPADecades of scientific investigation have confirmed the ecological importance of the Gully. With a tremendous variety of habitats for marine organisms, the Gully ecosystem is diverse and highly productive. The highest diversity of corals and whales in Atlantic Canada occur here. Species continue to be discovered in the canyon, and much of this ecosystem remains a mystery.

With long-lived, slow-growing species such as corals and whales occurring in the Gully, the area is vulnerable to impacts caused by some human activities such as fishing and hydrocarbon exploration.

The Gully is a unique ecosystem that deserves the special protection afforded by the MPA designation. Important conservation priorities for the Gully MPA are:

  • Protecting whales and dolphins from the impacts of human activities
  • Protecting seafloor communities and habitat from alterations caused by human activities
  • Maintaining or restoring the quality of the water and sediments of the canyon
  • Conserving other living resources

Conservation interest in the Gully has grown considerably over the last several decades. Government agencies, researchers, marine industries and conservationists have taken significant steps to recognize and protect this unique canyon.

Conservation Milestones

  • 1988
    • The northern bottlenose whales of the Gully became the focus of research by Dalhousie University scientists.
  • 1990
    • Oil and gas proponents established a tanker exclusion zone around Sable Island and the Gully.
  • 1992
    • Parks Canada selected an area encompassing the Gully and Sable Island as a Natural Area of Canadian Significance.
  • 1994
    • Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) designated the Gully Whale Sanctuary to reduce ship collisions and limit noise disturbance.
    • Canadian Wildlife Service workshop discussed the need for a conservation strategy for the Gully.
  • 1996
  • 1997
    • The Environmental Impact Statement for the Sable Offshore Energy Project, west of the Gully, identified the canyon as a 'unique ecological site' and 'valued ecosystem component'.
  • 1998
    • The Sable Gully Conservation Strategy was released, including goals and recommendations for planning and management.
    • The Gully was announced as an Area of Interest (AOI) for consideration as an Oceans Act MPA.
  • 1998-99
    • ExxonMobil Canada drafted The Gully Code of Practice as part of its Environmental Protection Plan for the Sable Offshore Energy Project.
  • 1999
    • The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board adopted a Gully Policy stating that no new oil and gas activity would be permitted in the Gully AOI.
  • 1999-2004
    • Public consultation was conducted to get feedback on the MPA design and proposed regulations.
  • 2002
    • The population of northern bottlenose whales found in the Gully was reassessed as "endangered" by COSEWIC.
  • 2003
    • The Gully Advisory Committee was established.
  • 2004
  • 2006
    • The population of northern bottlenose whales found in the Gully was listed as "endangered" under the Species at Risk Act.
  • 2008
    • The Gully MPA Management Plan was published.
  • 2010
    • A framework of indicators for monitoring the Gully ecosystem was drafted.
    • The Recovery Strategy for the endangered population of northern bottlenose whales found in the Gully was posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry.
  • 2012
    • A workshop was held to review existing data, protocols, and procedures for Gully ecosystem monitoring.
  • 2014
    • Ten year anniversary of the designation of the Gully as a Marine Protected Area. A Progress Report is available that provides the management and research highlights over the last decade.


Oceans and Coastal Management Division
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Maritimes Region)
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
PO Box 1006
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
B2Y 4A2
Phone: (902) 426-9919
Fax: (902) 426-2331