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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

North Gulf Shelf

The Water

Subtidal platforms with depths of less than 100 m, and ranging in width from 6-35 km, run along the coasts of the region. These platforms have a rough and very complex relief characterized by depressions, banks, reefs and islets. A deeper trough, an offshoot of the Laurentian Channel, slices into the region with depths of 200 m to over 300 m. The cold Labrador Current is the main influence in this region, giving the waters a distinctly Arctic character which is strongly reflected in the flora and fauna of the area. Mean tidal range increases from east to west, ranging from less than 1 m to 2 m. The open water season typically lasts five to seven months, with an ice cover consisting of a belt of landfast ice along the coast and close pack ice elsewhere.

The Coast

The coastline is bold and indented with numerous small bays, islands, reefs and inlets. Though predominantly low-lying, with low hills, estuaries and large deltas being the main features, cliffs over 400 m in height occur along the north shore of Anticosti Island and along the eastern shore of the region. Erosional features such as wave-cut marine terraces and sea stacks occur locally, particularly in the Mingan Islands and Anticosti Island.

The Wildlife

Some 55 marine, freshwater and anadromous fish species occur in the region, forming a generally cold-water fish fauna. Canadian plaice, Atlantic herring, capelin, Atlantic cod, Arctic cod, ogac, Greenland halibut, redfish and blennies are the most common marine fish species, while Atlantic salmon, brook trout and rainbow smelt are found along the coast and in the many rivers of the Quebec North Shore. Northern shrimp, snow crab and sea scallop are common. About 70,000 seabirds nest in small colonies on the North Shore, including Leach's storm-petrels, great and double-crested cormorants, great black-backed and herring gulls, black-legged kittiwakes, Arctic and common terns, common eiders, razorbills, common murres, black guillemots and Atlantic puffins. The region is an important staging and feeding area for waterfowl, seabirds and cetaceans have been noted in the region during the spring, summer and fall, including harbour porpoises, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, beluga, fin, minke, humpback, blue and pilot whales. Harbour and grey seals are abundant throughout the region, while hooded and harp seals are more numerous along the eastern portion of the region.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Three representative marine areas have been identified: Mingan Archipelago/Anticosti Island, Ste. Marie Islands and Strait of Belle Isle. 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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