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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

James Bay

The Water

The region is very shallow, averaging less than 50 m, with depths of less than 6 m rimming the coasts for up to 15 km offshore. James Bay is ice covered eight to nine months a year, although extensive shore leads develop throughout the region, kept open by the constantly blowing wind. The tidal range averages 1-2 m. The many rivers which empty into James Bay greatly decrease salinities in the bay and affect southeast Hudson Bay over a wide area.

The Coast

The east coast of James Bay is a skerry coast, rocky, rolling and complex, fringed by shoals, and with more than 500 flat and low-lying islands and islets. The west and south coasts, as well as the larger islands of the bay, are flat and low-lying, with extensive muddy tidal flats backed by salt marshes. Shorelines in southeast Hudson Bay are rocky and low-lying for the most part, though well-developed coastal cliffs and headlands reaching 500 m in height are found along portions of the Quebec shore and in the Belcher Islands. The Hopewell-Nastapoka-Long Island complex is the longest island chain in Canada, extending for approximately 600 km along the semi-circular coast. The majority of these islands are cuestas, with cliffs reaching 200 m in height.

The Wildlife

Freshwater and anadromous fish species dominate the James Bay fish fauna, in addition to the 22 marine species found in the region. Brook trout, lake cisco, lake whitefish, capelin, Arctic charr and sculpins are some of the more common species. The Belcher Islands have a good diversity of invertebrates and the islanders make greater use of this resource than anywhere else in the Arctic. Ringed and bearded seals are common, while harbour seals are less abundant. A small population of walrus is concentrated around the Belcher Islands. The most southerly subpopulation of polar bears occurs in this region, with many summering on the large islands in James Bay. The threatened eastern Hudson Bay beluga population concentrates around the many islands in the region. Other whales are rare. The Hudson Bay subspecies of the common eider breeds on the Belcher and Ottawa islands and winters in the shore leads around the islands. Snow geese, Canada geese, brant and a variety of diving and dabbling ducks are found along The Coasts of James Bay, particularly during the migratory period. The west coast of James Bay is critical to migrating shorebirds. A large portion of the central Arctic population of the red knot and the entire central Arctic population of the hudsonian godwit funnel through this area every year on their way south.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Four representative marine areas have been identified: Belcher Islands, Richmond Gulf/Nastapoka Islands, Twin Islands/Rivière du Castor and Akimiski Island/Chickney Point. The selection of the preferred site for consideration as a possible national marine conservation area is the next step. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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