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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Arctic Archipelago

The Water

Deep channels and basins with almost no shallow water are typical of the region. Depths generally range from 200-500 m, though several glacially-scoured fjords in the Queen Elizabeth Islands are 600-920 m deep. Ice cover, predominantly landfast ice, is complete in winter and extensive during the summer. Well into this century, the highly variable and unpredictable ice conditions common to the main channels were the bane of all ships hoping to navigate the Northwest Passage. A shore lead associated with the Cape Bathurst Polynya is the only consistent area of open water.

The Coast

As the name implies, the region encompasses numerous islands and forms the northernmost reaches of the country. High rocky coasts predominate in the northeast, while moderate cliffs are prominent in the south. Lowland plains dominate the west central section. Large permanent ice fields and glaciers are present, with icebergs occasionally calving (breaking off) into the sea from the glaciers along the shore of eastern Ellesmere Island.

The Wildlife

Only the hardy survive this far north and then only in small numbers. Polar bears and ringed seals are scattered throughout the region, while bearded and harp seals are observed mainly along the east coast of Ellesmere Island. Whales are rare and seabirds uncommon, due in large part to unpredictable open water conditions. Small numbers of brant and snow geese, ducks, loons, Arctic terns and glaucous, Iceland and ivory gulls breed and stage in the region. Beneath the ice, life is slightly more abundant, with a few Arctic fish species, notably Arctic cod, and the more widespread species of Arctic invertebrates.


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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