In May 2004, regulations were enacted to formally designate the Gully Marine Protected Area (MPA), and provide legal protection for the canyon ecosystem.

Map showing the location, depth contours and zones of the Gully Marine Protected Area

The Gully MPA Regulations establish the boundary and management zones. The MPA is 2,364 square kilometres, and is divided into three management zones.

  • Zone 1 encompasses the deep canyon environment, which includes important habitat for cold-water corals, dolphins and whales. This zone is very sensitive to human impacts and has the highest level of protection.
  • Zone 2 includes the canyon head and sides, feeder canyons and the continental slope. This area contains a high diversity of marine life, and has a high level of protection with a limited number of permitted activities.
  • Zone 3 includes the sand banks adjacent to the canyon, which are prone to regular natural disturbance. The natural variability of the ecosystem in this zone provides management with some flexibility to permit more activities, provided they do not damage or destroy species assemblages or their habitats.

View Coordinates for the MPA boundary and management zones.

The Gully MPA Regulations make it an offence for any person to:

disturb, damage or destroy in the Gully Marine Protected Area, or remove from it, any living marine organism or any part of its habitat [sec. 4(a)].

  • These general prohibitions apply to the entire water column and include the seabed to a depth of 15 metres.
  • The Gully is connected with the broader Scotian Shelf ecosystem via currents and movements of marine organisms. As such, the Regulations also prohibit activities in the vicinity of the MPA that result in the disturbance, damage, destruction or removal of organisms or habitats within the Gully MPA.

The Regulations identify certain activities that are permitted in the MPA provided they operate under relevant legal conditions. These are:

  • Commercial hook-and-line fishing for halibut, tuna, shark and swordfish in Zones 2 and 3
  • Vessel transit (in compliance with the Canada Shipping Act)
  • Search and rescue, environmental emergency response and clean up
  • Activities related to national security, sovereignty and public safety

Approval of Activities

Activities not specifically identified in the Regulations are generally excluded from the MPA. However certain activities, including tourism, media production and research, may be allowed under certain conditions. These activities, as well other activities not listed as exceptions in Section 8 of the Regulations, require special approval of a submitted plan containing information on the activity. Plans for scientific research and monitoring may be approved in all three zones provided the research meets all regulatory requirements. Most other proposed activities are restricted to Zone 3.

The activity plan must be submitted at least 60 days in advance of the proposed activity. View more information on the application and review process.

In accordance with United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), foreign governments or competent international organizations wishing to conduct marine scientific research in the territorial sea, in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or on the continental shelf of Canada (in some cases extending beyond 200 nautical miles) must obtain advance consent through official channels. The applicant wishing to undertake the research is required to submit their request under cover of a diplomatic note to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the federal department responsible for administering the marine scientific research consent process on behalf of the Government of Canada. The request is then evaluated and approved under Canada’s Foreign Vessel Clearance Request process. DFO reviews research requests as they relate to the Department’s mandate for marine science, resource management and conservation. In cases where research requests involve MPAs, DFO reviews the proposed activities against the conservation and management objectives of the site.


As per section 7 of the Gully MPA regulations, any person involved in an accident that is likely to result in any disturbance, damage, destruction or removal in the MPA of any living marine organism or any part of its habitat; must, within two hours after its occurrence, report the accident to the Canadian Coast Guard (1-800-565-1633).


Violations of MPA Regulations can carry penalties of up to $100,000 for an offence punishable on summary conviction, and up to $500,000 for an indictable offence. A conviction may result in additional fines and imprisonment. Violations may also result in charges under the Fisheries Act and other applicable legislation, such as the Shipping Act and the Species at Risk Act. Convictions can result in fines and imprisonment under these Acts.

Critical Habitat

In 2010, Zone 1 of the Gully MPA was legally declared under the Species at Risk Act as Critical Habitat for the endangered Scotian Shelf population of Northern bottlenose whales.

Researcher photographing bottlenose whales from a sailing vessel. Photo Credit: Hilary Moors-Murphy


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