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The Gulf of Saint Lawrence

The Gulf of Saint Lawrence (French: golfe du Saint-Laurent), the world's largest estuary, is the outlet of North America's Great Lakesmarker via the Saint Lawrence Rivermarker into the Atlantic Oceanmarker. It is a semi‚Äďenclosed sea, covering an area of about 236 000 km2 and containing 35000 km3 of water (including the St. Lawrence estuary). It opens to the Atlantic Ocean through the Cabot Strait (104 km wide and 480 m at its deepest) and the Strait of Belle Isle (17 km wide and 60 m at its deepest).

The gulf is bounded on the north by the Labrador Peninsulamarker, to the east by Newfoundlandmarker, to the south by the Nova Scotia peninsulamarker and Cape Breton Islandmarker, and to the west by the Gaspé and New Brunswickmarker. It contains Anticosti Islandmarker, Prince Edward Islandmarker, and the Magdalen Islandsmarker.

Besides the Saint Lawrence River itself, semi-major tributaries of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence include the Miramichi Rivermarker, the Natashquan River, the Restigouche River, the Margaree Rivermarker, and the Humber Rivermarker. Arms of the Gulf include the Chaleur Baymarker, Miramichi Baymarker, St. George's Bay, Bay of Islandsmarker, and Northumberland Straitmarker.

Cultural importance

The gulf has provided a historically important marine fishery for various First Nations that have lived on its shores for millennia and used its waters for transportation.

The first documented voyage by a European in its waters was by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534; the Cartier expedition is reported to have been the first known encounter between Europeans and First Nations inhabiting the Gulf of St. Lawrence basin, which occurred in present-day New Brunswick on July 7, 1534.


The gulf flows into the Atlantic through the Strait of Belle Islemarker between Labrador and Newfoundland, the Cabot Straitmarker between Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, and the Strait of Cansomarker between Cape Breton Island and peninsular Nova Scotia. It should be noted that since construction of the Canso Causewaymarker in 1955, the Strait of Canso does not permit free-flowing exchange of waters between the gulf and the Atlantic.

Protected areas

St. Paul Island, Nova Scotiamarker, off the northeast tip of Cape Breton Island, is referred to as the "Graveyard of the Gulf" for its many shipwrecks; access to the island is controlled by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Bonaventure Islandmarker on the eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, Île Brion and Rochers-aux-Oiseaux (Bird Rock) northeast of the Magdalen Islandsmarker are important migratory bird sanctuaries administered by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

The Government of Canada maintains national parks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence estuary at Forillonmarker on the eastern tip of the Gasp√©, Prince Edward Islandmarker on the north shore of the island, Kouchibouguacmarker on the northeast coast of New Brunswick, Cape Breton Highlandsmarker on the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, Gros Mornemarker on Newfoundland's west coast, and a national park reserve in the Mingan Archipelagomarker on Quebec's C√īte-Nordmarker.

The five provinces bordering the gulf also maintain various provincial parks, some of which preserve coastal features.

Undersea features

The Laurentian Channel is a feature of the gulf floor that was formed during previous glaciations, where the continental shelf was eroded by the St. Lawrence River during periods of global sea level minimums. The Channel is 290 m in depth and approximately 1250 km in length from the continental shelf to the Estuary. Deep waters with temperatures between 2 and 6.5 degree Celcius enter the Gulf at the continental slope and are slowly advected up the channel by estuariane circulation . Over the last century, the bottom waters of the end of the channel (i.e. in the St. Lawrence estuary) have become hypoxic.

The large extension of the continental shelf southeast of Newfoundland is known as the Grand Banksmarker, and is the focus of fishing and oil exploration. Portions of the Grand Banks lie outside Canada's Exclusive Economic Zone. The easternmost portion of the shelf is known as the Flemish Capmarker, and it lies completely in international fishing waters.

Submarine canyons and fans can be found off the Scotian shelf.



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