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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Labrador Shelf

The Water

The continental shelf averages 150 km in width, with depths of less than 70 m within two km of the shore. Several offshore banks extend to the edge of the steep continental slope that rapidly reaches depths of over 3000 m. The region is covered in ice seven to ten months of the year. The fjords, bays and a narrow coastal zone are bound in landfast ice, while pack ice extends 150-225 km offshore. The Labrador Current flows south in two streams; a cold inshore branch and a slightly warmer offshore branch which keeps the pack ice moving. The tidal range varies from 3 m in the north to 1 m in the south. Icebergs are abundant and occur year-round.

The Coast

As an old Newfoundland proverb puts it: "God created the earth in six days. On the seventh, He sat back, threw rocks at it and created Labrador." Although an accurate description of this rather barren and rocky 20,000 km coast, it does not do justice to its sheer beauty. Strongly influenced by glacial erosion, the shoreline is complex with about 4000 coastal islands and many bays and inlets slashing inland for several kilometres. A precipitous coast ranging in height from 200-1000 m is broken by spectacular fjords and deeply incised valleys.

The Wildlife

Some 90 species of Arctic and subarctic marine and anadromous fish occur in the region, with important Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, Arctic charr and capelin spawning grounds. Several breeding colonies support more than 100,000 pairs of Atlantic puffins, common murres and razorbills, including 60 percent of the North American population of the latter. King eiders, dovekies, murres and kittiwakes stage and winter offshore. Harbour seals are resident here, while ringed and bearded seals winter in the area. Harp and hooded seals stage annual migrations along the coast and whelp in an offshore area known as the "Front" off southern Labrador. About 60 percent of all harp seal pups in the Northwest Atlantic are born here. Atlantic white-sided dolphins, belugas, northern bottlenose, sperm, blue, fin, sei, minke, humpback, pilot and killer whales are present during the summer. Polar bears are more common in the north, though the occasional one is seen further south, having floated down on a pan of ice.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Two representative marine areas have been identified: Nain Bight and Hamilton Inlet. 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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