CHAPTER 2

THE BAY OF FUNDY

The Bay of Fundy is special in many ways. The first feature for many is its strikingly high tide. At 16 metres (53 feet), the tide is the highest in the world. You can walk on the sea floor at low tide and you will be nine times your own height below the high tide level. But you had better get out of there before the tide comes in. The tide is special in several ways.

2 – 1: Tide clocks are more useful than Greenwich time on the Bay of Fundy where tides raise and lower the water by over 50 feet.

The funnel-shape of the Bay of Fundy amplifies the effect of the pull of the moon to make these very high tides. As the Bay constricts it also becomes shallower and forces the incoming tide to pillow up even more. As the water rushes into the Bay past Briar Island, eastward past Digby and divides into Chignecto Bay and the Minas Basin, the tidal volume is ‘bottlenecked’ by basins that become narrower until eventually the tide is very high and the inflow is rushing up rivers as tidal ‘bores’.

The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world partly because it acts like a funnel and then splits into two more funnel-like bays eventually squeezing the tidal flows into tidal bores that reverse flows up the rivers as virtual walls of water.

This is one of the sun and moon systems of coastal Canadian environments. In all environments the sun delivers all the energy that “Green Magic” turns into food for living things but in these ‘sun and moon systems’ the sun and the moon combine to give an additional dowry of celestial power to earthly ecosystems. The combined gravitational pull of the sun and moon creates tides and, as we shall see later, the energy of those tides becomes an important boost to the solar energy fed by “green magic” into these special coastal environments.

Recently the combination of geological, lunar and marine forces in the Bay of Fundy has been seen by engineers, by commerce and by governments as an exploitable energy source — tidal power. But these tides and their energy are special. They have been powering natural processes forever. Exploiting this tidal energy for human desires and profits could expropriate the critical vital force that operates the Bay of Fundy ecosystem. The energy of the tide raises nutrient-laden particles up off the sea floor far away on the Scotian shelf. Those nutrients get a ride into the Bay on currents that rival any whitewater canoe trip. Inshore, the tides flood the goodies up around the plants that need them. For rooted plants, the tide surrounds the plants with the nutritious tidal soup. For free floating plants, such as the phytoplankton, with every crest and ebb, the tidal energy mixes the plants right into the plant food all over the Bay. This is the critical and irreplaceable, natural work of tidal power.

The same free ride and delivery system is given to the free-floating animals — the zooplankton and the larvae and eggs of many, larger animals. Many small animals that live in the surface muds of the Bay floor are moved several hundreds of metres by each tidal cycle. Tiny crustaceans called amphipods, relatives of crayfish, are supplied with free transportation in this way1.

The Great Fundy Basin

The present-day Bay of Fundy is 290 km long, about 100 km at the widest and 120 to 215 m in the deeps.

About 400 million years ago giant tectonic plates shifted. The African plate bumped into the North American plate causing the Appalachians to be thrust up.

About 200 million years ago the African and the North American plates separated, leaving the gap that is now the Bay of Fundy as a tropical rift valley full of dinosaurs. Sediments eroded from the continent and slowly covered the bottom of the Bay.

About 13,000 years ago large sheets of glacial ice melted in this basin adding their load of glacial till to the sedimentary floor of the Bay.

2 – 2: When the tide rushes in, it creates currents that are stronger than those in many whitewater rivers. This whirlpool, affectionately called “The Old Sow” is very close to the route earlier proposed for heavy oil tankers and now for liquefied natural gas tankers in Canadian waters just off Eastport, Maine.

Production of biomass and feeding it up a food chain produces wastes whether in a barnyard, a garden or in the Bay of Fundy. In the inshore area of the Bay, tidal energy also cleans up this waste. The flushing action of the tides keeps digestive wastes and dead body parts of plants and animals from producing an underwater barnyard. Waste material, such as dead plants, is broken up by the mechanical forces and mixed with the decomposers that will further break down the wastes. Not only are the wastes cleared away, they also are started into the constant process of decomposition and recycling. Decomposer microorganisms and animals will completely break down animal and plant matter. The tide mixes the decomposers and the organic matter, speeding decomposition. The decomposers get their energy and their nutrients by breaking down the organic matter. In the process nutrients are released to recycle back into the green plants. And the decomposer biomass produced in the process can be a food supply for other food chains.

2 – 3: The tide carries a load of nutrient-rich sediments and some of this mix of organic and inorganic matter is deposited in rich mudflats.

Decomposition forms a second major food chain, adding to the chain that starts with the sun’s energy being trapped by green plants — the “green magic” chain2. The second chain starts with decomposers feeding on wastes from other chains. Besides releasing nutrients for others, decomposers produce particles of partially decomposed waste and they also add their own bodies to the mix. This biomass of waste and waste processors is the food supply for another complex food chain that, at some seasons, can be as important as the “green magic” chain in the Bay of Fundy. Wastes, dead bodies and bits that break off all settle onto the bottom. At various stages of decomposition, all this material can become food for a diversity of living things. Many species, such as the seaweed kelps, can absorb particles of organic matter that are only partly decomposed. Many other species prefer to eat the bacterial decomposers themselves. Filter-feeders such as mussels capture any high energy organic materials floated to them. The richness of these forms of life is highlighted by the reefs of horse mussels deep on the bottom of the Bay. These reefs, discovered by a remote-sensing map project by the Geological Survey of Canada, have been built by their mussels to three times the height of such reefs anywhere else in the world.

The main source of power for any ecosystem is the solar energy fed into the ecosystem through green plants. In addition, just as diesel-powered tractors can do some work to aid the growth of crops in the farm fields, the energy of tides do work to aid the biological production in a marine ecosystem such as the Bay of Fundy.

See text for discussion.

As food is passed along this decomposer food chain, nutrients are released in the water and are eaten or absorbed by many others — often members of the “green magic” food chain. In a well-functioning system, such as the Bay of Fundy, there are no solid waste dumps and there is no need for a notion such as ‘garbage’. The tides are the transporters and they don’t take it to Michigan as Toronto does. It’s too valuable.

A tiny amphipod crustacean, Corophium volutator, is found only in the mudflats of the Bay of Fundy and nowhere else in North America. For those who think crayfish are micro-lobsters, this little relative will hold no interest as food; a big one grows to only 10 millimetres. These little guys eat particles of dead organic matter and diatoms, small shelled algae. For connoisseurs, this little amphipod is good to eat. It is full of fats. And these amphipods can produce a crop of 10,000 to 20,000 in a square metre of mudflat.

Semipalmated Sandpipers, Calidris pusilla, gorge on these amphipods to refuel on the long journey these birds make twice-yearly between their Canadian arctic nesting grounds and their South American wintering grounds. They eat about 10,000 of these little crustaceans per day by foraging frenetically across the mudflats.

2 – 4: When the tide bares the mudflats, biologists can census the Amphipods. After the next tide, the topography and the spatial distribution of the Amphipods will all be changed.

2 – 5: These tiny Amphipods are nutritionally charged particles that will fill the fuel tanks of the Semi-palmated Sandpipers on their long flight to South America.

These Sandpipers feed on the mud flats of both Chignecto Bay and the Minas basin in the Bay of Fundy. That refueling doubles a Sandpiper’s body weight from about 20 to about 40 grams in just two weeks. These fat, one-centimeter amphipods provide about one-third of the birds’ Fundy food.

About another one-third is thought, by Dr. Diana Hamilton of Mount Allison University, to be “biofilm”. Recently given much attention, biofilm is found on the surface of the mud flats and is exposed when the tide ebbs. These microscopically-thin, mucus-like sheets are rich in protein, including a wealth of microscopic shelled plankton called diatoms and other microscopic organisms and particles of dead organic matter. This biofilm is the golden brown or greenish sheen coating the surface of the mudflats and keeping the mud from washing away. The birds are seen to ‘slurp’ this rich film. The remaining third of the Sandpipers’ fuel is not yet known.

When the Sandpipers have put on enough fat, they fly non-stop for about 60 hours from Fundy shores to the region of Suriname near the equator on the Atlantic coast of South America. We would be tired on a 60 hour, non-stop jet flight and these guys are flapping all the way.

Arising from the decomposer food web, this amphipod food chain joins the Canadian arctic ecosystem and a South American ecosystem in a partnership. But Semipalmated Sandpipers could not link these two distant ecosystems by migration without the rich productivity of the Bay of Fundy. Without the productivity of the Bay of Fundy, their survival strategy would have failed; it depends on this refueling stop.

Survival for the Semipalmated Sandpipers means building up a concentration of biomass. Their own bodies — those neat packets fattened by all those amphipods and diatoms -- do not go unnoticed.

2 – 6: Semi-palmated Sandpipers follow the tides in and out harvesting a rich food supply from the tide-freshened surfaces of the mudflats. They forage for Amphipods from their shallow burrows in the mud.

2 – 7: A concentration of Sandpipers rises from their roost line to fill the evening sky with the beauty of living beings overlaying Fundy’s water with colours, shapes and textures that refresh the spirit.

Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlins and other shorebirds, are food targets for Peregrine Falcons. Some have suggested that the recent decline in some shorebirds is related to heavy hunting by Peregrines. It is true that the shorebird decline did coincide with the increase in Peregrines. However, when you see a lone Peregrine, or even a family group, hunting among a flock of 100,000 shorebirds, it seems difficult to ascribe the huge declines in shorebird populations solely to kills by Peregrines. The Peregrine increase followed the banning of DDT with its disastrous thinning of their egg shells. Successful reproduction by falcons released from captive breeding programs also added to the Peregrine population.

SPIRIT REGENERATION

Dr. Ivar Mendez, a Halifax neurosurgeon who regenerates his spirit on the Bay of Fundy at Cheverie, N.S. values these sandpipers highly:

“The spectacular ballet of the sandpipers is a phenomenon of nature, a wonderful gift to the eyes and the spirit.”

Saltscapes 7(5), Sept/Oct 2006

2 – 8: A mass of sandpipers rises in unison. The shore itself seems to take wing.

2 – 9: By following a few simple rules about the birds next to them, birds can, without any leader, execute very complex manoeuvres en masse. The flight behaviour of the mass may give some defence against predator attack for the birds in the core.

Dedicated observers, such as Dick Dekker of Edmonton3, have suggested that some shorebirds have developed their flight patterns and flocking behaviour as adaptations to repeated predation by Peregrines. When the Semipalmated Sandpipers rise from the mudflats, they immediately fly as a single coordinated unit. They appear to be a single massive organism not a lot of single birds.

So-called ‘swarm intelligence’ , common in bird flocks, fish schools and ant swarms, co-ordinates the individuals by a set of simple rules, without any leaders, and produces a giant ‘organism’ that is more difficult for a Peregrine to attack. As the unified flock manoeuvres, all the birds in one end of the flock show their dark, upper sides, but as the flock does a giant ‘wraparound’ manoeuvre, the other end of the flock shows its bright undersides. The megaflock flashes black and then white, another possible adaptation to repel a Peregrine flying nearby. But if one or a few sandpipers lag behind the edge of the flock, the Peregrine does not hesitate to grab one and, in a dusting of feathers, carry it off to a feeding perch.

2 – 10: An individual flying at the edge of the mass is picked off, in a puff of feathers, by a fast-flying Peregrine.

By purchasing and safeguarding a long strip of beach near Johnson’s Mills, New Brunswick, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has ensured that all the drama of the Semipalmated Sandpipers refuelling stop on the Bay of Fundy mudflats will continue. The NCC also has made it easy for the local residents and for many visitors from other provinces to witness these beautiful natural processes at close range. To educate and to inform visitors, NCC has built and staffed a small interpretation center nearby. As visitors watch the interactions between the sandpipers and a Peregrine, a biology graduate may suddenly appear to interpret what the visitors are witnessing — strong support of our natural riches by NCC. Many residents and touring visitors arrive with the high tide to enjoy the natural wealth.

Unfortunately Semi-palmated Sandpipers have declined in total numbers by about 5% per year over the past 20 years. Declines have been recorded widely across their breeding and migratory ranges. Nesting success and recruitment of young into the adult population seem adequate to keep the population healthy and yet they decline and intensive research has so far failed to find the cause.

2 – 11: Flocks paint the shoreline in earth tones and ivories.

We are giving higher and higher value to such irreplaceable bits of biodiversity and natural processes. This was made clear by the widespread, angry reaction of the residents of Quebec’s Îles-de-la-Madeleine when an errant ATV drove over protective cages and crushed the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus) nests the cages were protecting.

The tidal energy coming into the Bay of Fundy does many kinds of work that are vital to maintain the natural wealth of biodiversity and the natural processes that ensure continued functioning of the Bay of Fundy ecosystem. The tide cleans the environment, helping to break down dead biomass for recycling back into the nutrient stream. Food stuffs and nutrients from elsewhere are moved by the tide to where they fertilize the system, essentially restocking the larder. If inshore community members don’t help themselves, the tide will almost put the food in their mouths. The aquatic ecosystem of the Bay of Fundy depends on the energy supplement from the tides but the extreme height of the tides also means that tidal effects range far up the shoreline slope. It is a long walk between the high tide line and the low. So the tidal energy supplement is also spread over a very large intertidal area of the Bay of Fundy shallows.

2 – 12: Beautiful mudflats but not just pretty mud. These birds will double their weight during their short stay on the richly productive mudflats of Fundy.





2 – 13: Precambrian rock supports plants of great beauty such as this orange lichen (Xanthoria elegans) but the productivity is miniscule compared to the Bay of Fundy.

Contrast this tide-enriched environment with what we might find on a piece of Precambrian Shield. The bare granitic rock would supply nutrients only as fast as the rate of weathering of the bedrock would free them — a very slow flow compared to Fundy’s mudflats and saltmarshes. Decomposition and recycling of dead organic matter and biological waste is the only other important source of nutrients. On land, in the north, decomposition is possible only during a short season and the rate of breakdown is very slow. In the tidal system of the Bay of Fundy, the decomposition process is much faster and is boosted by the mechanical energy of the tides.

The tide also affects an inshore fringe of marshes around the Bay. Coastal marshes, rocky tide pools and river estuaries also benefit from the effects of the tides. Tides support the natural processes of “green magic” and decomposition4. The salt marshes are not heavily used by animals, so the harvest taken by grazers from green plant production is less here than in other habitats. Not only plant eaters but also decomposers are scarce in salt marshes.4 Consequently, much more of the annual salt marsh production of green plants, both live and dead, is left untouched. As a result, a lot of the production by “green magic” in the salt marshes is flushed out into the Bay of Fundy, particularly onto the inshore mudflats, to support the food chains there. Essentially, the tides do the work of the missing decomposers of the salt marshes. The export of production from the salt marshes into the Bay is another cause of the outstanding productivity of the Bay of Fundy and points up another role of the tides in driving that productivity.

2 – 14: Water, air, sun and green plants. All the ingredients for green magic. Powered by the sun, photosynthesis assembles carbon from the carbon dioxide of the air together with water and the nutrients it carries and produces high-energy plant tissue that flows along the food chain to feed the fishes and the whales.

Tides also make difficulties for the plants of salt marshes. When inundated, the plants are flooded with nutrients but also with too much water and that water is too salty. To maintain the chemical balance in their tissues, some plants have evolved glands to excrete excess salts.

For the roots, the air is shut off every time the tide peaks. Plant roots need oxygen to breathe, just as we do. But they have no lungs and unlike most big animals, plants do not have the luxury of a system of tubes devoted to distributing oxygen to all their tissues to breathe. They get some help from specialized stem tissue that allows some air movement to the roots. But the roots of salt marsh plants have to breathe mostly from a layer of gases trapped around their roots under the wet surface muds.

The tides bring nutrient-laden silt and organic particles into the salt marshes. These particles transport recycled nutrients, originally from the salt marshes, and they also bring silt-borne nutrients from very far offshore. This fertilization raises the production by the green plants in the salt marsh to a level matched by few ecosystems in the world, including many farm crops.

2 – 15: Saltmarshes provide a diversity of habitats ranging from the salt shore inland to the freshwater vegetation. Tidal currents sort soil particles depositing heavier boulders and gravel at the barrier beach and lighter fine silts at the high tide line.

2 – 16: Here in O’Neill’s Farm saltmarsh in St. Andrews, NB the range of soil textures combines with the range of tidal effects and the variation from fully salt to fully fresh water produces distinct zones of vegetation.

The soils in a salt marsh are not all muds and silts. Tidal energy is enough to move even big rocks and certainly lots of gravels. So a salt marsh has a range of soil textures from fine silt to coarse gravel sorted into a range of ridges, flats and depressions. These soil textures combine with the ebbing tidal force to create a mosaic of environments from the offshore to the uplands. These environmental zones and patchy mosaics translate into a mosaic of plant species — a mantle with the low diversity but the high productivity characteristic of stressed environments. Much of that high productivity is from the three species of Spartina that dominate salt marshes. As tides and storms reshape the marsh, the mosaic cloak of vegetation is rewoven.

The high production of green plants in salt marshes did not go unnoticed when immigrants arrived to the Bay of Fundy from France in the 1660’s. They brought with them the technology of dykes with tide gates (aboiteaux) long used around La Rochelle and elsewhere in western France. Historians usually refer to the back-breaking labour of the Acadians as “developing highly productive land”. A different view is that the saltmarshes already were highly productive. All the dyking around the Bay of Fundy and the appropriation of the ecological productivity for agriculture eliminated most of the salt marshes along the Fundy shores.

2 – 17: Specific plants live in predictable habitats in a saltmarsh. That predictability allowed high school students to propose hypotheses about habitat relationships and study the plants in this saltmarsh to test those hypotheses.

THE CHRONICLE OF TANTRAMAR MARSH

1671    Colonists arrive from western France to found the Acadian settlement Beaubassin. They name the marsh “Tintamarre” after the great noise of waterfowl wings heard there.

1672    Acadians convert tidal marsh to farmland.

1713    Tantramar area becomes the zone between English and French colonial territories.

1755    Le Grand Derangement or Expulsion of most Acadians from the Tantramar.

1761-72    Demobilized British soldiers, New England colonists, Loyalists and new British colonists take over Acadian Tantramar lands and continue expansion of agriculture in the marsh.

1815    Canal constructed to drain the upper marsh. Buoyant market in marsh hay follows the horse transportation era into the next century.

1943    Canadian Broadcasting Corporation builds transmission towers in the marsh.

1948    Maritime Marsh Rehabilitation Act passed to provide federal funds for dyke maintenance.

1970-2000    Agricultural exploitation of Tantramar declines.

(See also: Dale Wilson and Harry Thurston. “Revisiting Tantramar”, Saltscapes, Vol.8, No. 1, January/February 2007)

The ghosts of those 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of salt marshes range over almost as many hectares of dyked hay land.

The dykes crowd to within a few metres of the Bay’s edge, leaving too little to sustain even a fringe of the former salt marsh. Some town councils around Fundy have even seriously suggested building shopping malls on dyke land. Many salt marshes on Fundy’s shores have histories similar to Tantramar’s. The massive degradation of salt marshes was not driven by any single force; it even included early international influences. And it took almost 400 years for the forces promoting that degradation to change.

2 – 18: Most of the area of original saltmarshes has been converted to hay and pasture lands. Much of the conversion was done when hay for horses was a critical commodity. What is the critical need now?

2 – 19: The Tantramar saltmarshes were dyked by early settlers and their productivity was channelled into hay production. That hay production is now highly mechanized and removes large volumes of plant productivity that otherwise would flow into the ecosystems of the Bay of Fundy.

2 – 20: In dykelands, only a vestigial strip between the dyke and the Bay is allowed to resemble saltmarsh. Vast areas have been converted to haylands. Having passed beyond the horse-drawn era, should we compare the values of haylands versus saltmarshes?

STUDENTS TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT SALT MARSHES

Progressive teachers and bright students are building a foundation of understanding that may increase the value that we place on salt marshes in the future. Steve Adamowicz, M.Sc., took many classes to the salt marshes on the edge of St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

One of Steve’s students at the Sir James Dunn Academy, Dwayne Lawrence, listed several goals for his work:

a)To expose biological and environmental factors affecting distribution and abundance of plant species found in the O’Neill’s Farm Salt Marsh.

b)To put into a context for learning, the features and characteristics of the plants in the salt marsh and try to determine how they relate to their particular individual environments.

c)To determine the existence of a hierarchy or a similar organizational pattern that might explain the domination of one plant over another.

d)To discuss a relationship between the form and function of the salt marsh plants using collected data and background information on living systems from the classroom and lab work.

We are very fortunate to have such students and such teachers working to improve our appreciation of the salt marshes of Fundy.

Barriers other than hayland dykes also were built to prevent salt water flooding in from the Bay. Barriers such as railroad beds trapped fresh water inflow from the uplands and slowly converted salt marshes, inland from the barrier, into fresh water marshes. In the Musquash marsh, along the TransCanada Highway between St. John and Pasamaquoddy Bay, a rail line formed such a barrier. Under the co-operative leadership of Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, that barrier has been broken and some of Musquash is reverting to a salt marsh. The restoration of the marsh will be supported by protection of the estuary which has almost every kind of habitat known in the Bay of Fundy and is reported by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick to be the last fully functional estuary in the Bay of Fundy. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and a contribution of 728 hectares from the Province of New Brunswick, over 3000 acres (1277 hectares) of estuary, for 12 kilometres downstream of the marsh, has been designated as Canada’s sixth Marine Protected Area. This marine environment will be protected in perpetuity under Canada’s Oceans Act. In turn, the estuary will be supported by restoration and protection of the marsh and other habitats in the landscapes in which the estuary is embedded. These lands are coming under a partnership of local land owners, the NCC, Ducks Unlimited, and the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources. Such co-operative stewardship is the model we must follow to care for our lands rather than trying to buy and protect all that we value. For the Musquash marsh and estuary, a Musquash Estuary Stewardship Committee has been formed and future funding will come from the Musquash Estuary Stewardship Endowment Fund. None of these things would have been possible without critical contributions from National and local industries and foundations.

2 – 21: The Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Province of New Brunswick, Ducks Unlimited, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other partners are restoring the Musquash marsh and estuary toward its original saltmarsh character.

2 – 22: The Musquash saltmarsh was damaged by a rail line that acted as a dyke to prevent tidal inundation by saltwater and trapped freshwater on the landward side preventing its outflow. The resulting impact was to convert the upstream side of the rail line to a freshwater marsh and to deny the downstream portion some important ecosystem functions of a saltmarsh.

On the Nova Scotia side, an old culvert was preventing flooding of a salt marsh by the tide. A citizen’s group, The Ecology Action Centre, in cooperation with the federal and provincial government replaced the culvert under Route 215, allowing the tide to rebuild the salt marsh on Cheverie Creek. Their greatest difficulty was public apathy about saltmarshes. The project earned an award from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment.5

Remaining salt marshes around the Fundy shores are limited in area. Remaining big marshes are too easy to list: Musquash and Manawagonish along the north shore, the east end of Chignecto Bay from Moncton to Sackville and Amherst, and fringes of high tide zones in the Minas Basin. Smaller salt marshes, such as the O’Neil farm marsh at St. Andrews, are scattered along the Fundy shores.

2 – 23: Herring weirs historically have demonstrated one form of the productivity of the Bay of Fundy.

Despite the losses of salt marshes, the Bay of Fundy is still outstanding in its ecological productivity and in the diversity of species that share in that productivity. In addition to the plants, bacteria, krill, scallops, bony fishes, amphipods, shorebirds, and peregrines, Fundy also feeds 9 or 10 species of giant whales and porpoises. The large and charismatic Humpbacks, Fin Whales and Northern Right Whales are among Fundy’s natural riches. These giants return yearly from other hemispheres because of the globally outstanding food production of the Bay of Fundy.

2 – 24: The Fundy culture would be incomplete without the weirs. Building new weirs is a big event. The forest supplies the poles and, now, a factory supplies the nets.

2 – 25: Many indicators of the Fundy productivity all in one small bay. Salmon pens — the new productivity. Weir-building machines and materials — herring have always contributed. Boats for harvesting the offshore products.

Among the large whales, Northern Right Whales are the most likely to become extinct in the next 50 years, according to Dr. Moira Brown. Most of the remaining 57 Northern Right Whale breeding females return to Fundy each summer, from their winter calving grounds off northern Florida, to share in the outstanding productivity of this special place. Fundy has the greatest concentration of Northern Right Whales in the world. Sadly, surviving Northern Right Whales suffer their most severe threat from entanglement in fishing nets.

2 – 26: Most of the remaining Northern Right Whale breeding females use the Bay of Fundy as one component in the global mosaic of habitats that they use annually. Only about 50 breeding females remain.

Experts believe that until we facilitate the use of multiple acoustic warning devices on every piece of fishing gear and until only biodegradable nets are used, fishing gear will continue to reduce the surviving number of these great whales. Meanwhile, people such as Dr. John Lien, Honourary Research Professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, devotes himself and risks his life disentangling these whales from fishing gear, with the help and co-operation of the owners of the expensive gear. Debra Tobin and East Coast Ecosystems in Nova Scotia are working tirelessly to educate and involve all who can help and to facilitate the work of experts on the survival of these Fundy giants.

2 – 27: Humpbacks, the third longest whale, with flippers one-third of the body length, also grace Fundy with their seasonal presence.

2 – 28: Like the others, Humpbacks come to the Bay of Fundy because they benefit from the productivity of Fundy. If we allow that productivity to be seriously reduced in order to gain some additional benefits for humans, we will remove that support from some other species and should not be surprised if they no longer visit — or even survive.

As in Tadoussac, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, whales in Fundy are the foundation of both new economic opportunities in whale watching and in research work attempting to learn enough about the whales to enable our co-existence with them. Boat propellers and fishing gear have scarred about half of the surviving, slow-moving, northern right whales while oceanographers and volunteers try to reorganize commercial shipping lanes to reduce this needless waste.

Some of Fundy’s natural riches are strictly local treasures, such as the amphipod that is eaten by the Semipalmated Sandpipers. This little crustacean occurs nowhere else in North America. But the whales, the peregrines, the sandpipers, all connect the Bay of Fundy into the ecosystems of both the northern and the southern hemispheres. If the Bay of Fundy’s production were removed, it would not be just Canadians that would notice the effects.

As temporary stewards, we Canadians are responsible for the survival of the natural processes that, alone, are powerful enough to maintain this very special place. As stewards we have the good fortune to enjoy the spiritual uplift and the aesthetic beauty of this grand component of Canada’s natural wealth. Thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers rising from the beach like a giant superorganism in the evening sky renews the human spirit in a way that is seldom duplicated. What value should we place on such beautiful experiences? The answer is unclear but it is clear that we cannot afford to lose them.

We must wonder why a treasure trove such as the Bay of Fundy does not have a centre devoted to the spread of the knowledge that we do have and the production of new knowledge that we lack. Why is there not a Bay of Fundy Centre? What keeps us from endowing Sackville, New Brunswick with a ‘centre of excellence’ devoted to learning about and protecting this very, very special place?

1 David Drolet, PhD. student. Laboratory of Diana Hamilton, Biology Department, Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick.

2 see, for example, “Dance of the Dunlins”, Canadian Geographic, pp. 57-62, March-April 2006.

3 For more natural history of salt marshes, see Harry Thurston, A Place Between the Tides, Greystone Books, Vancouver, 2004; and The Life and Death of the Salt Marsh, by J, Teal, and M. Teal, Ballantine Books, New York, 1983.

4 see “Marsh Revival” by Jodi DeLong, Canadian Geographic, p25, May-June 2006


Image Sources — Chapter 2

Image Photographer Location
1GMJohnson’s Mills, NS
2GMBlacks harbour, NB
3JAUpper Rockport, NS
4GMUpper Rockport, NS
5GMUpper Rockport, NS
6GMUpper Rockport, NS
7GMJohnson’s Mills, NS
8JAJohnson’s Mills, NS
9GMJohnson’s Mills, NS
10GMJohnson’s Mills, NS
11JAJohnson’s Mills, NS
12JAJohnson’s Mills, NS
13GMBathurst Inlet, NU
14GMUpper Rockport, NS
15GMSt. Andrews, NB
16GMSt. Andrews, NB
17GMSt. Andrews, NB
18JAAmherst, NS
19GMAmherst, NS
20JASackville, NB
21GMMusquash, NB
22GMMusquash, NB
23GMPassamaquoddy, NB
24GMPassamaquoddy, NB
25GMPassamaquoddy, NB
26GMBay of Fundy
27GMBay of Fundy
28GMBay of Fundy


Map – Bedford Institute of Oceanography Biennial Review 1977 - 1978
Diagram copyright Aileen Merriam.
JA – copyright © Jeff Amos
GM – copyright © Gray Merriam