Magdalen Islands

The Magdalen Islands form an archipelago located in the centre of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. In total, the land, dunes and offshore sand bars of the islands comprise about 200 square kilometres. The coastlines are characterized by red sandstone cliffs, extensive sandy beaches bounded by dunes as well as broad brackish lagoons and wide salty swamps. Pine forests, which once covered the interior of the islands, have mostly given way to agricultural and developed landscapes.

The Magdalen shelf extends  several thousand square kilometres from the islands to the continent and has a relatively shallow depth (80 metres on average). This makes it Canada’s warmest marine region. The diversity of terrestrial habitats and the archipelago’s oceanographic features mean that the islands attract a large variety of species, especially those that do not exist or are very rare elsewhere at this latitude. There is quite a diversity of birds, about 200 species seasonally abound on the archipelago. Some breed in the region (such as Quebec’s only known colonies of piping plovers, horned grebes and roseate terns). Many migratory species (both sea ducks and shorebirds) stop here during their migrations. Harp seals and hooded seals use the sea ice that forms in winter as haul-outs and for giving birth in spring. Occasionally, whales can also be observed migrating to their feeding or calving territories.

The islands, known and occupied for thousands of years by First Nations, currently have about 13,000 inhabitants. Their way of life depends largely on fishing and the exploitation and transformation of sea resources. These occupations, together with tourism, are the dominant sectors of the economy.

Snow crabs, the American lobster, and the Atlantic sea scallop, as well as many species of fish (Atlantic herring, Atlantic mackerel, American plaice and redfish), are exploited. These resources are diminishing, as is the case elsewhere on the planet. Picturesque landscapes attract many visitors each year, their impact needs to be regulated. Finally, several oil and gas exploitation projects are being planned which could irrevocably compromise efforts to manage and protect the sea resources.

CPAWS work in the Magdalen Islands
Since 2004, talks have been held among the federal and provincial governments and local communities to draft a Marine Protected Area of approximately 17,000 square kilometres. CPAWS Quebec’s role is to inform local communities, promote the utility of Marine Protected Areas – including for sustainable economic development of the Islands– and to bring together all stakeholders to establish a Marine Protected Area in the Magdalen Islands. CPAWS Quebec is also a founding member of the Saint-Laurent Coalition, which is working to reach an agreement for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and exploitation throughout the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.


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    Assessing national progress towards marine protection to December 2012.