Canada’s environmental response

Learn about the actions we take for marine pollution incidents.

On this page

Report a marine pollution incident

If you see marine pollution, report it immediately.

About the environmental response program

Our environmental response program aims to minimize the impacts of marine pollution in Canadian waters on:

  • public safety
  • the economy
  • the environment

To ensure the cleanup of spills from ships or unknown sources, our environmental response program focuses on being prepared and providing an appropriate response.

Emergency planning

Our environmental response program deals will incidents on a national and regional level.

Our national efforts outline the scope of operations for responding to marine pollution incidents.

Regional efforts:

  • correspond to geographic areas of responsibility
  • translate the national scope into operational measures appropriate to the geographic area
  • use a geographically specific response plan, which is a local level plan


Our training program is designed so that all personnel are able to respond effectively to a marine pollution incident.

Incident command system

We use the incident command system to manage operations during a response to a marine pollution incident. The Canadian Coast Guard’s incident commander works with the incident commanders of other organizations to coordinate an effective response. 

Response capacity

We maintain specialized response teams strategically located in each region of Canada. These teams can be equipped with:

  • command and control assets
  • health and safety monitoring systems
  • mechanical sweep and recovery systems, including skimmers
  • a containment deflection and protection system, such as booms

All regions maintain an environmental response duty officer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Map of environmental response equipment for Canadian Coast Guard depot sites.
Map of environmental response equipment for Canadian Coast Guard depot sites

International cooperation

We ensure an appropriate response to marine pollution incidents through international cooperation. We collaborate when an incident affects the connecting waters of 2 or more countries.

We have agreements in place to help exchange assistance between participant countries. One such agreement is with the U.S. The response plan between the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard outlines and defines the roles and responsibilities for clean-up efforts of marine pollution incidents.

Response in the Arctic

We have an agreement with other arctic nations for responding to marine oil pollution when 2 or more arctic nations are impacted. The agreement outlines the procedures for incidents. This includes the actions we and other participating nations undertake to notify and request assistance.

International convention on oil pollution preparedness

Canada is also a participant of an international convention for responding to oil pollution. Under this agreement, Canada can:

  • call upon other participating nations for assistance in a major incident
  • be called upon by other participants to provide assistance to a marine pollution incident

International exercises

Canada works with other nations to exercise joint emergency plans developed cooperatively to ensure efficient response operations.

For example, the plan for Canada and the U.S. covers 5 area plans. These area plans must be exercised on a regular basis to ensure an appropriate level of response preparedness.

Response actions

We’re responsible for receiving, assessing and ensuring an appropriate response to all reports of marine pollution occurring in Canadian waters. We make sure our response is appropriate by working with:

  • the polluter (if willing and able)
  • federal, provincial or territorial agencies
  • Indigenous communities
  • municipalities

Polluter responsibilities

The polluter is responsible for paying the cost of clean-up efforts and pollution damage from ships, according to the Marine Liability Act. This includes any government costs needed to respond to an incident. 

We, of course, are required to ensure that appropriate actions are taken, including response:

  • initiation
  • management
  • sustained efforts

Regional chapters

Regional chapters provide details on:

  • resources
  • strategies
  • procedures

Watchkeeping officers in each region:

  • receives and assesses all reports of marine pollution
  • has trained response staff in each region of Canada
  • maintains a national response capacity that can be deployed whenever necessary

These are used to prepare for and ensure an appropriate response to marine pollution incidents occurring within a region’s geographic area.

Private sector resources

The Canadian Coast Guard and polluter can, if needed, contract private sector resources to conduct clean-up operations. The bulk of the private sector’s response capacity is held by response organizations, which are regulated and certified by Transport Canada.