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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada
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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan
Strait of Georgia
The Strait of Georgia is a relatively deep basin with an average depth of 155 m, while depths of 55-250 m are found in Juan de Fuca Strait which separates British Columbia from Washington state. The Fraser River, which drains about one-quarter of British Columbia, discharges so much fresh water in the spring that it essentially converts the Strait of Georgia into a huge estuarine ecosystem. These elements create one of the most productive marine environments on our Pacific coast.
The mainland is marked by an indented coastline of long, steep-sided fjords, inlets, islands, passages and steep channels resulting in some of the most spectacular scenery on the British Columbia coast. In contrast, eastern Vancouver Island is characterized by a more regular, undulating coastline with extensive coastal bluffs, deeply cut river valleys and few inlets.
The subtidal communities are particularly diverse in this region and vary greatly from one location to another, depending on temperature and currents. The Fraser River is the most important salmon-producing river in North America and the salmon pass through the region to return to their native streams. A number of other major spawning rivers occur along the mainland coast. The Strait of Georgia also has important Pacific herring spawning grounds. Hornby Island is one of the rare places where the unaggressive six-gilled shark comes into shallow waters every year. The number and diversity of breeding seabirds is far less than the other Pacific regions – under 40,000 – and is composed primarily of glaucous-winged gulls, double-crested and pelagic cormorants and pigeon guillemots. However, this area is more important to the two million diving and dabbling ducks and geese which use the estuaries, tidal flats and coastal waters as summering, staging and wintering grounds. A group of some 90 resident haul-outs throughout the area. Stellar and California sea lions are present during the winter months.
This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. The Southern Strait of Georgia representative marine area was selected as the preferred site for consideration as a possible national marine conservation area. The Pacific Marine Heritage Legacy agreement, signed by Canada and British Columbia in 1995, foresees an expanded and integrated network of coastal and marine protected areas on Canada's Pacific coast, and includes reference to assessing the feasibility of establishing a national marine conservation area in the Strait of Georgia. Commitment to such a study has been confirmed in the federal/provincial agreement of May 2003 to establish the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)