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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Arctic Basin

The Water

The Canada Basin, by far the largest of the Arctic Ocean basins, dominates the marine region, with an average depth of 3600 m. From this basin flows the water that reaches every corner of the Canadian Arctic. This region is constantly encumbered by sea ice which covers 90-100% of its surface area throughout the year. Caught in the Arctic Ocean Gyre, one of the main Arctic Ocean currents, the pack ice moves slowly in a vast circle and stays around for several years. This multi-year ice reaches a thickness of up to 2 m and is heavily ridged. Ice islands a few kilometres in length and width, and strong enough for heavy aircraft to land on, are common. Tides are almost non-existent.

The Coast

What coast is present in this region is steep and deeply cut by fjords in the north and low-lying in the south. There is essentially no shallow water, except quite close to shore and it is constantly scoured by ice to a depth of several metres. Ice shelves of the northern Ellesmere Island coast, and particularly the 16-km-wide Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, are unique in the Northern Hemisphere and generate many of the ice islands which become part of the Arctic Ocean polar pack.

The Wildlife

Permanently ice covered, The Waters of the region remain unmixed and as a result are biologically poor. The occasional bearded seal, ringed seal, polar bear, bowhead whale and and beluga are found along the ice margins. Birds are few and far between although the ivory gull, "phantom of the polar ice", can be found along the edges of the pack ice even in winter. Only beneath the ice is life slightly more prolific. There, a few fish species and various kinds of benthic invertebrates such as clams and polychaetes (marine worms) are known to occur.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Studies to identify preliminary representative marine areas have yet to be undertaken. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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