In the Gulf of St. Lawrence between eastern Quebec and Anticosti Island, a string of islands are transforming, and revealing the secrets of the past, as they have for millions of years.
The Mingan Archipelago, a coastal chain of more than 1,000 islands and islets spanning 152 kilometres, is an important haven for seabirds, rare plants, marine life and other wildlife, as well as home to the largest concentration of erosion monoliths in Canada.
It all started following the last ice age, when the immense ice sheets covering what is now Canada began to recede and the soft limestone archipelago slowly rose out of the sea. Shaped by the artistic hands of tides, wind and weather, the limestone crumbled away and formed towering sculptures, called monoliths, throughout the region. That 450-million-year-old limestone is still being shaped today, and when pieces break away, exposed fossils reveal the natural history and scientific significance of the archipelago dating back to when the first marine organisms evolved in the ancient Champlain Sea at the edge of the Canadian Shield.
While the archipelago was forming, an enormous diversity of flora and fauna established itself in varied habitats, including peat bogs, salt marshes, boreal forests, barrens and shoreline. Now more than 450 species of vascular plants, 190 species of lichen and 300 types of moss grow here, while seabirds such as puffins, razorbills, guillemots and terns return in the spring to breed, attracted to the safety of the islands and the plentiful supply of prey in the surrounding waters. Many of these species aren’t found anywhere else in the region — one of the reasons why, in 1984, Parks Canada established Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve to protect its rich biodiversity.