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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Queen Charlotte Shelf

The Water

The narrow continental shelf west of the Queen Charlottes closely parallels the shoreline, ranging from 7-30 km in width. The continental slope is unusually steep, dropping rapidly to over 2500 m. Bowie Seamount, some 220 km to the west rises to within 37 m of the surface from depths of more than 3000 m. Its three shallow pinnacles cover approximately 4 hectares, creating an oasis of life in a mid-ocean desert.

The Coast

The coast is particularly rugged due to heavy glaciation and complex changes in sea level, resulting in a high relief fjord coast with numerous islands and low rocky shorelines on the outer fringe. This region is one of the windiest in Canada with persistent and intense local winds, frequents storms and long fetches of more than 1000 km. The result is a coast constantly battered by large waves, creating a variety of erosional landforms such as sea stacks and sea caves.

The Wildlife

Of particular interest in this region is its close proximity to the continental slope, with its component of truly oceanic waters and the associated benthic and deep pelagic faunas. Significant Pacific salmon spawning rivers as well as Pacific herring, Pacific halibut and sablefish spawning grounds are all found here. Bird life is abundant -- more than 390,000 pairs of rhinoceros auklets, tufted puffins, Cassin's auklets and ancient murrelets, 70,000 pairs of Leach's and fork-tailed storm-petrels and lesser numbers of other species breed in some 30 colonies spread out along The Coast. Stellar sea lions are resident in the region and over 1000 breed on the Kerouard Islands. Haul-outs are found all along The Coast. Grey whales, killer whales, Dall's and harbour porpoises are frequent visitors to the region, while northern fur seals migrate offshore. Harbour seals are rare.


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 The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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