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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada
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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan
The northern strait (Dixon Entrance) is a broad east-west depression in the continental shelf ranging in depth from 200-400 m. Hecate Strait is a shallow channel which runs north-south. It is bounded on the mainland side by a submarine valley and on the other by a wide, gently rising shelf with depths generally less than 100 m. The tidal range is on the order of 3-5 m and helps to keep the waters well mixed, creating tidal rips and eddies in various locations.
A broken shoreline of islands, isolated shoals and countless bays typify this coast. In most of the region, a low rocky outer shoreline gives way to mountains and uplands cut by fjords and glacially-cut channels. The low-lying northeast portion of the Queen Charlotte Islands is dominated by some of the most fascinating beach forms in British Columbia.
Intertidal and subtidal benthic communities are varied and productive. The Nass and Skeena river systems are important to all five species of Pacific salmon, as well as steelhead trout. The region has significant spawning areas for Pacific herring, rock sole and English sole, rockfish, Pacific halibut and walleye pollock, as well as nurseryareas for a variety of species, concentrated around the mainland outer islands and the shallow offshore banks. More than 50 seabird colonies are found in the region, supporting over 240,000 pairs of Cassin's auklets, rhinoceros auklets and ancient murrelets, with lesser numbers of Leach's and fork-tailed storm-petrels, glaucous-winged gulls and pigeon guillemots. A strictly marine race of Peregrine falcons also nests in the Queen Charlottes, feeding mostly on small alcids. The shallow banks and upwelling areas are important feeding areas for breeding, summering and migrating birds. Killer whales, harbour porpoises and Dall's porpoises are regularly sighted throughout the year, while grey, fin, minke, humpback and sperm whales are frequent summer visitors. Steller sea lions and harbour seals are residents.
This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. However, a 1988 federal/provincial agreement for the establishment of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, included provision for the establishment of an adjacent marine protected area. The process for the establishment of the proposed Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve is underway and some important milestones have already been achieved. These include agreements signed by the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia and the Council of the Haida Nation; the voluntary relinquishment of petroleum leases within the boundaries of the proposed Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve by oil companies; and the transfer of the provincial seabed interests within the boundaries from British Columbia to the federal government. Some of the next steps for Gwaii Haanas include the negotiation of a new agreement between the Government of Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation to determine how the National Marine Conservation Area Reserve will be managed, and consultations with island communities, stakeholders and the public to develop an interim management plan
The proposed Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve will extend 10 km offshore from Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, covering an area of approximately 3400 km2, and will represent both the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Shelf marine regions.
(For details on the establishment process, see NMCA Program.)