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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Newfoundland Shelf

The Water

The continental shelf area is narrow, typically less than 50 km wide, but extends out to 200 km in places. The seafloor is uneven, with shallow banks towards the outer edge of the shelf and deep central basins and troughs up to 400 m deep. Islands, reefs, and shoals are common. Winds increase productivity by keeping the water column mixed. The tidal range rarely exceeds 1 m. The region is ice covered for about three months of the year, mostly pack ice. Icebergs are common and are often very close to shore. This is the southernmost extent of Arctic water in the world and many of the species found in the region reflect that Arctic affinity.

The Coast

Uplift, folding, deposition, glaciation and the subsequent drowning of the coast by changes in sea level have resulted in a highly irregular, rugged and bold coastline dominated by bedrock cliffs up to 300 m in height, rock outcrops, pocket beaches and numerous islands, inlets and bays. The coast is predominantly a storm-wave environment and the Atlantic Ocean batters all but the most sheltered areas.

The Wildlife

Important stocks of Atlantic cod, capelin, Atlantic salmon, haddock, redfish, Canadian plaice and Greenland halibut occur here. Overall invertebrate diversity is high and includes such species as lobster, Iceland scallop and snow crab. This region has the greatest concentrations of breeding seabirds in Atlantic Canada – close to six million pairs, over 90% in three main colonies: Witless Bay Islands, Baccalieu Island and Funk Island. Between them, these colonies harbour over 70% of the North American population of Atlantic puffins, 80% and 17% of the western Atlantic populations of common murres and northern gannets, respectively, along with the world's largest and second largest Leach's storm-petrel breeding colonies (over 4 million pairs in all). Funk Island, the most remote of the seabird islands, was once home to tens of thousands of Great Auks, extinct since the early 19th century as a result of overhunting. Millions of gulls, murres, dovekies, fulmars, kittiwakes, common and king eiders and other sea ducks winter offshore while Southern Hemisphere shearwaters spend the summer here. The region sees a great variety of migrating and summering cetaceans, particularly harbour porpoises, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, humpback, fin, right, minke, sei, sperm and killer whales. Local populations of humpback whales are the largest in the world and continue to expand. Hooded and harp seals are common as they migrate to their whelping patch at "The Front" off southern Labrador.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. The Bonavista-Notre Dame Bays representative marine area was selected as the preferred site for consideration as a possible national marine conservation area in the region, and in 1997, Canada and the provincial government launched a feasibility study for a proposed national marine conservation area in that location. In 1999, the feasibility study was discontinued as there was not sufficient support to proceed. Governments made the decision in response to concerns expressed by the feasibility study advisory committee on behalf of the residents of local communities. Other options for representing this marine region will be investigated in due course. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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