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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Magdalen Shallows

The Water

The region is a semi-enclosed, shallow sea covering 79,350 km². The shelf is up to 150 km wide, with an irregular bottom characterized by troughs, banks and shoals. Depths average less than 80 m, with the troughs reaching 200 m. The large freshwater input from the St. Lawrence River reaches the region via the Gaspé Current which rounds the Gaspé Peninsula. Combined with the shallow depth, this makes it the warmest oceanic area in Eastern Canada. Completely ice-covered in winter, surface waters reach 16°-20°C in summer, and as high as 25°C in shallow embayments. Yet even then, the temperature just 20-30 m below the surface remains at 0° to 5°C.

The Coast

The coast is indented with headlands and bays, and dominated by low cliffs and gentle slopes. Wide sandy beaches and pocket sand and gravel beaches are plentiful. Erosion by wind, waves and currents is prevalent and has created barrier beaches, barrier islands, spits, coastal dunes, tombolos, cuestas, and sea caves, arches and stacks. Salt marshes, lagoons, estuaries and tidal flats occur locally.

The Wildlife

The relatively warm marine environments found in this region support several species which are either absent or extremely rare north of Massachusetts, including a relict population of oyster. Irish moss, snow crab, lobster and sea scallop are common throughout the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Important stocks of Atlantic cod, Canadian plaice, flounder, white hake, sand lance, Atlantic halibut, mackerel, capelin and herring are also widespread. Several important spawning rivers for anadromous species, such as Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, alewife and American shad, are found in the region. Although the region has less than 2.5% of the breeding seabirds in Eastern Canada, many of the colonies are of national significance. The Bonaventure Island and Bird Rocks colonies support the bulk of the North American population of Northern gannets, more than 25,000 pairs. The region is critical to the endangered piping plover with over 70% of Atlantic Canada's population breeding here. Geese, sea ducks and shorebirds stage in coastal areas during spring and fall. Harp seals and hooded seals whelp on the offshore ice around the Magdalen Islands in early spring. Both species then migrate north, following the retreating ice, with the harp seals swimming more than 3200 km to reach their Arctic summering grounds. Grey seals give birth on the newly formed ice in eastern Northumberland Strait and along western Cape Breton Island. Following the breakup of the ice the greys wander but generally remain in the Maritimes, while harbour seals are common residents of the region. Cetaceans are generally uncommon except along the edges of the region where deeper waters are found.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Three representative marine areas have been identified: the Magdalen Islands, Gaspé Bay and Kouchibouguac Bay. 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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