Marine Domain Awareness (MDA) is an essential and underlying foundation of ocean management and increasingly, the regulation of shipping in coastal waters. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines MDA as the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy, or environment. The maritime domain is defined as all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterways, including all maritime-related activities, infrastructure, and other conveyances.
While achieving marine domain awareness may seem straightforward, it is not at all simple. During a February 2007 presentation, Lieutenant General Dumais, the commander of the CF’s Canada Command, explained that: “Maritime domain awareness is difficult to define as it is neither an operation nor a mission — you do not do MDA, you achieve it. All agencies contribute to it. It knows no owner but responds to many masters who readily use it to achieve their respective goals.”
K. Joseph Spears in this December 2013/January 2014 BC Shipping News article argues that therein lies the problem with developing a robust marine domain awareness capability. There is no lead or coordination function within the legal process to share information between federal departments. It doesn’t presently exist other than in the marine security area where the Marine Operation Security Centres (MOSC) have been successfully developed to deal with marine security threats. For example, Australia has done a lot of work in this area and has created a National Marine Domain Centre.
In the Marine security field, Transport Canada states: “Maritime domain awareness requires a coordinated effort within the federal government as well as with stakeholders and global partners.” It is the fundamental underpinning of the regulation of maritime shipping and ocean governance in Canada’s West Coast that there is a recognized maritime picture (RMP) of marine traffic within Canada’s jurisdiction. This is not just important from a defence and security standpoint but also covers all aspects of ocean governance, including search and rescue, fisheries management, pollution response, and administering marine protected areas.