Get to Know Your Ocean Habitats on World Ocean’s Day

North America is bordered by three oceans: Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic. In many ways, the habitats, local culture and economies are shaped by them. Often when those of us who donít live near the shoreline think of oceans, we picture a vast expanse of deep, open waters. Besides offshore ecosystems, coastal areas are teeming with life as well.

Take a tour through some marine and coastal habitats and get to know the species that live in the area.

Salt marshes and estuaries

An estuary occurs where a river meets the sea. These transition zones where fresh and salt water mix are very productive and support many different species. Many estuaries are under threat by coastal development.

Salt marshes are coastal wetlands that are covered by salt water or brackish water brought in by tides. In the Maritimes, cordgrass stretches over many of these marshes, giving the landscape a prairie look. Salt marshes, together with seagrasses and mangroves (found in tropical regions) are coastal ecosystems that boast high biodiversity and sequester large amounts of carbon, and are often referred to as ďblue carbon.Ē Thanks to salt marshes, upland areas are protected from storm surges and floods. In Nova Scotia, the area is home to a rare salt marsh shrub called eastern baccharis, which is only found along a 25-kilometer stretch.

Musquash Estuary, NB (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

Musquash Estuary, NB (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

In British Columbia, the Campbell River Estuary has always been one of my favorite reclamation success stories. The site was once heavily used by industry. This left the estuary and nearshore virtually lifeless and stripped of much its original biodiversity. But through partnership and many years of hard work, the shoreline and intertidal areas have been revived to a bustling hub of nature. Today, marsh wrens flit through the thickets, black bears frequent the area for food and the number of salmon using the estuary as a nursery for their young has rebounded.

Mud and tidal flats

Flying over the vast mudflats at Johnsonís Mills, NB (Photo by NCC)

Flying over the vast mudflats at Johnsonís Mills, NB (Photo by NCC)

A vast bed of brown and seemingly lifeless mud may not appeal to many people, unless youíre a shorebird. The mud and tidal flats found along sheltered areas near estuaries and bays abound with crustaceans, molluscs, fish and critters too small for the naked eye to see. These goopy grounds serve up the best buffet coveted by shorebirds, waterfowl and crabs.

The mud flats in†Mud Bay in Surrey, BC are rich with invertebrates and eel-grass beds that are important for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl.

Semipalmated sandpipers feeding on the mudflat. (Photo by NCC)

Semipalmated sandpipers feeding on the mudflat. (Photo by NCC)

Every summer,†Johnsonís Mills Shorebird Reserve and Interpretive Centre in southern New Brunswick welcomes thousands of visitors to witness the spectacular sight of migratory shorebirds feeding on the mudflats of the Bay of Fundy. Hundreds of thousands of birds, including sandpipers, plovers and sanderlings, stop in the Bay of Fundy before they continue their journey to their southern wintering grounds.

Sand beaches and dunes

Conway Sandhills, PEI (Photo by John Sylvester)

Conway Sandhills, PEI (Photo by John Sylvester)

Sand dunes and beaches are among the most recognizable coastal habitats. These are shaped and formed by wind and waves. Although these habitats seem barren, there are sand-adapted plants that stabilize the dunes, for example American beach-grass and marram grass.

Beaches and dunes are also important nesting areas for shorebirds, including endangered piping plovers.

Oceanic islands

Maddox Cove, NL (Photo by Ronald Stone, Stone Island Photography)

Maddox Cove, NL (Photo by Ronald Stone, Stone Island Photography)

Oceanic islands provide important habitat for seabirds. Because of their isolation, they often have different plants and animals than the mainland. The Maddox Cove Nature Reserve is an important stopover site for migrating birds. Seabirds, such as gulls and murres, can be spotted on the reserve.

Open marine waters

Walruses (Photo by Mario Cyr)

Walruses (Photo by Mario Cyr)

In Canadaís high Arctic, NCC has accelerated the protection of a National Marine Conservation Area in Tallurutiup Tariunga/Lancaster Sound, by securing and then extinguishing resource rights. Habitats in this region include polynas. These are home to many marine mammals, including harp and ringed seal, narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, walrus and polar bear. The surrounding shores are important nesting habitat for seabird colonies.

 

This post was written by Wendy Ho and was originally posted on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s blog, Land Lines.

Post photo: Campbell River Estuary, British Columbia (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

43 comments

Shirley P
Shirley Pyesterday

THANK YOU, SUCH A WONDERFUL EDUCATIONAL ARTICLE.

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Jan S
Jan S5 days ago

Thank you

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Angela J
Angela J11 days ago

Thanks

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Leo Custer
Leo C11 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Trish K
Trish K12 days ago

Rachael Carson Wildlife Conservation & Massachusetts Watershed Association + + +

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Danii P
Danii P12 days ago

Thanks

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Danii P
Danii P12 days ago

Thanks

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Danii P
Danii P12 days ago

Thanks

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Michael F

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Leo C
Leo C13 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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