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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Baffin Island Shelf

The Water

The continental shelf is narrow, only 30-50 km wide and consists of a series of shallow banks, separated by troughs up to 800 m in depth. The continental slope drops rapidly to 2000 m in central Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. Most of the fjords and inlets are 200 m deep and often exceed 500 m. True Arctic water dominates the water column. The region has a nearly complete ice cover from October to June, with landfast ice in all the fjords and pack ice offshore which persists into late summer. Icebergs, most calved from the glaciers in Greenland, are frequent along the entire coast. Tidal range is low, generally less than 1 m.

The Coast

The shoreline is typically bold, with steep cliffs rising abruptly from the sea to heights of 1000 m and skirted by an apron of talus. The region is heavily indented with narrow fjords, inlets and bays. Some of the most incredible examples of glacial landforms in Canada are found here. Several glaciers reach the sea.

The Wildlife

The intertidal zone is subject to extensive scouring by sea ice and is practically barren. The subtidal benthic community is far richer and longer lived. Fish diversity is low, dominated by Arctic marine species, particularly Arctic cod. One-third of the Eastern Arctic population of bowhead whale, down to 3% of its original size due to commercial whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries, concentrates in Isabella Bay during late summer and early fall. Killer whales, narwhal, belugas and harp seals also use the area as a major migration route. Heavy concentrations of ringed seals are found throughout the region, with lesser numbers of walrus and bearded seals. Harbour seals are found in the south, while polar bears are common throughout the region. Many of the High Arctic bowhead, beluga and narwhal winter in the open pack ice in Davis Strait. Some 400,000 pairs of northern fulmars and thick-billed murres breed in several major colonies along The Coast, as well as lesser numbers of black guillemots, common and King eiders and glaucous and Iceland gulls.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Three representative marine areas have been identified: Merchants Bay, Isabella Bay/Home Bay and Buchan Gulf/Scott Inlet. 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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