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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Beaufort Sea

The Water

Along the Beaufort Sea, a broad but shallow continental shelf borders The Coast, with depths of 10 m or less found up to 30 km from shore. Amundsen Gulf, a large embayment, is 600 m deep in the centre, with several large bays and relatively little shallow water. Tides are almost nonexistent. The region is covered in ice for 7-9 months, with landfast ice extending 20-80 km from shore in shallow areas and pack ice dominating the remainder. During this period, the Bathurst Polynya and shore lead system provide areas of open water critical to marine mammals and spring staging birds. The Mackenzie River is the only large North American river emptying into the Arctic and its abundant freshwater output has a profound influence on the productivity of the region.

The Coast

The coast ranges from mostly flat, wet and barely above sea level, to sheer cliffs of 425 m. The Beaufort Sea proper is a drowned coastline with low cliffs that are rapidly eroding. Pingos are characteristic of this area, both on land and below water. Amundsen Gulf to the east is also low-lying, with intermittent high cliffs. Barrier beaches, spits, extensive deltas, lagoons, estuaries, tidal flats and narrow sand and gravel beaches are found throughout the region.

The Wildlife

There are more than 40 Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic marine fish species in the region, including capelin, Pacific herring, ogac and Arctic cod, as well as several freshwater/brackish species, such as cisco and whitefish. Some 5000 bowhead whales, about 75% of the world population and over 11,000 beluga summer and feed here, using the shore leads to reach their favourite feeding areas. This region also has one of the highest densities of polar bears and ringed and bearded seals in the Arctic. The Beaufort Sea is one of the Canadian Arctic's most important areas for waterfowl and shorebirds. In spring, migrating common and King eiders, oldsquaw, loons and gulls occur throughout the open water leads and polynya. In summer, moulting ducks are found in most sheltered bays and channels. Thousands of shorebirds migrate along The Coast. The only breeding populations of thick-billed murres and black guillemots in the Western Arctic are found here. The lack of suitable rocky cliffs for nesting -- some guillemots actually use historic buildings instead -- is probably the main reason there are so few of these alcids compared to the Eastern Arctic.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Three representative marine areas have been identified: Cape Bathurst Polynya, Yukon North Slope and Western Banks Island. 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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