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Parks Canada - Georgian Bay

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Georgian Bay

The Water

Georgian Bay is a shallow, westerly sloping basin with the deepest sections adjacent to the Bruce Peninsula, where depths in excess of 60 m occur within 100 m of the shoreline. The maximum depth is 92 m. Most of the region is characterized by extensive areas of shallow water, rarely exceeding 25 m and mostly less than 10 m. Reefs and shoals form a complex bottom relief. The Main Channel area is known for its fierce currents, which, along with the frequent storms, have brought more than one ship to grief. Upwelling occurs where prevailing winds drive surface waters away from the shore and replace it with colder water from below. These areas tend to be more productive than the rest of the bay, which is well stratified during the summer months. Surface water temperatures range from 0°C in January to 16°-19°C in August. The Waters of Georgian Bay are among the clearest in the Great Lakes and visibility easily reaches 20-25 m. Ice covers most of the region between January and early April.

The Coast

The Coastline is predominantly low-lying, rocky and generally complex, with long narrow inlets, numerous bays and thousands of islands and reefs. Beaches, sand dunes, wide bedrock platforms, marshes, lagoons, sea caves and sea stacks occur locally. The Niagara Escarpment is the only upland section in the region with cliffs up to 100 m in height along the shore, and effectively separates Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron. Elsewhere coastal relief

The Wildlife

The fish fauna is dominated by warm-water species, such as walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass and muskellunge, though cold-water species such as lake whitefish, lake cisco and lake trout are also common. Georgian Bay is also the last Great Lakes refuge of the shortnose cisco, a threatened species once common throughout these lakes. The southern part of the region also has a particularly rich amphibian and reptile fauna, including several salamanders, frogs, turtles and one water snake which occasionally make use of the lake's aquatic environment. Ring-billed and herring gulls are the most common breeding birds in the region, along with lesser numbers of great blue herons, cormorants and Caspian and common terns. Migrating waterfowl use the east shore of Georgian Bay as a staging area, but few overwinter.


This region is partly represented by Fathom Five National Marine Park (112 km²). The area was formerly managed by Ontario as an underwater park and became a national marine conservation area following an agreement between Canada and the province in 1987. However, as the lake bed within Fathom Five has not yet been transferred to the federal government, the national marine conservation area itself is not formally established under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act. Studies have indicated that Fathom Five is not fully representative of its marine region and boundary modifications may be considered in the future to increase its overall representation. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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