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Department of Fisheries and Oceans Common dolphins swim in a deep-water canyon known as the Gully off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Gully was declared a marine protected area Friday, controlled by federal regulations that prohibit activities harmful to its ecosystem.

Deep water canyon off N.S. designated protected area
The GullySable Island teems with fish and rare corals

By KEITH BONNELL
Canadian Press
MAY 14/04

   HALIFAX - A deep underwater ' canyon off the coast of Nova Scotia that's teeming with sea-life and rich in rare coral has been deemed a protected area by the federal government. Federal Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan announced Friday that a can' yon near Sable Island, known as the Gully, has been declared a marine protected area under the Oceans Act.
   "We are protecting a very important area that is home to a great diversity of life," Mr. Regan said at a news conference.
   The designation is meant to guard the Gully against pollution, fishing and oil and gas exploration that could hurt the animals and plant life that thrive in its depths.
   Located on the edge of the Scotian Shelf, the Gully is the largest marine canyon in the western North Atlantic.
   It is a habitat for sea birds, fish, dolphins, sperm whales and the endangered northern bottlenose whale. It's also home to 21 identified species of rare deep-sea corals.
    "It is a very important eco system," said Mr. Regan. "It's vital that we protect it."
   The Gully is about 80-kilometres-long and 50-kilometres-wide. It reaches down more than 2,500 metres at its mouth.
   The news was welcomed by environmentalists, who have fought for almost a decade to see it protected.
   "I think it was a good day. It's a beautiful area, a unique area," said Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre, an East Coast environmental advocacy group.
   The Gully is the second of what federal officials hope will, over the next decade, become a system of 11 marine protected areas on both Canadian coasts and in the Arctic.
   The first was the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents off the Pacific coast, announced last year.
   Despite taking strong steps to protect the Gully, the fisheries minister left the door open to possible oil exploration in the outer areas of the canyon.
   Oil rigs and fishing boats are expected to be prohibited in the core but may be allowed to operate along the canyon's sandy, shallow banks. Regan said all projects would be evaluated and assessed for any potential harm they could cause.
   Jim Dickey, CEO of the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, said his organization has not authorized any exploration in the Gully for the several years, in anticipation of the new, protected designation.
   The Primrose field is the only petroleum licence in the Gully and was classified by the board as a significant discovery in 1985.
   It is licensed to Shell, but the rights to the site, estimated at a value of $35 million, have not been exercised. "It's going to depend on the individual application and any effects they're going to have on the Gully," said Mr. Dickey.
   "It's not closed entirely."
   The boundary lines will also allow some fishing for swordfish, halibut and shark in the canyon's head and sides and near the banks.
   Troy Atkinson, head of the Nova Scotia Swordfishermen's Association, expressed disappointment with the final boundaries.
   He said his group only found out in the late stages of the process that the whole of the canyon's core would be off limits.

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