Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park

Review 2023

In 2023, the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park celebrated the 25th anniversary of its creation. Since 1998, the Marine Protected Area has bordered the coastal landscapes of four of Quebec’s regions: Charlevoix, Côte-Nord, the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and the Bas-Saint-Laurent. Lying at the heart of an exceptional biodiversity, the Marine Park has aimed ever since it was first created to protect its ecosystems while promoting educational, recreational and scientific activities.

Dans cette revue de l’année, nous vous invitons à découvrir les 5 éléments marquants du parc marin du Saguenay–Saint-Laurent en 2023.

1

A more refined portrait of the St. Lawrence beluga

New information on the species was made public at the beluga symposium, a gathering of the scientific community that took place in May 2023.

New population estimate

1530 2200

The most significant announcement was the update of the population estimate. The St. Lawrence beluga population is estimated to number between 1,530 and 2,200 individuals. This new estimate, obtained by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is the result of a more accurate assessment of the number of individuals through improved calculation methods and census techniques. Even if it is double the preceding estimate, this new figure does not indicate a true increase in the size of the population.

Causes of mortality: update

In 2023, we also learned that cancer in belugas has all but disappeared. Thanks to decontamination efforts, the most recently reported case of cancer goes back to 2011. The beluga population is still endangered. Mortality rates in females and young animals remain high and are a source of concern with regard to the species’ survival.

The Marine Activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations provide belugas with an extra layer of protection. Reducing the impact of human activities and maintaining a respectable distance from the species are the best ways to help it recover.
The closure of Baie Sainte-Marguerite to watercraft as well as the approach distances and speed limits imposed by the Marine Park contribute to a better coexistence between recreational activities and belugas. Parks Canada and Sépaq teams have continued their efforts both offshore and onshore to educate pleasure boaters and kayakers and encourage them to comply with this regulation.

Scientific beluga watching from shore

A total of 227 days of onshore beluga observations were made between June and September. Observers scanned the horizon from five different scientific observation sites located at Baie Sainte-Marguerite, Baie-Sainte-Catherine, Les Bergeronnes, Les Escoumins and Cacouna.

Parks Canada’s Cristiane Albuquerque and MMON’s Ana Commault-Gaury observe belugas from the outdoor lookout of the new Putep ‘t-awt observation deck in Cacouna.

Félix-Olivier Dufour observes belugas from the shores of Fjord-du-Saguenay National Park. Summer 2023 marked the 20th year of such monitoring in Baie Sainte-Marguerite.

2

Diversity of research projects

A genuine outdoor laboratory, the Marine Park hosted several research groups from different backgrounds and their projects over the course of the past year, as detailed in the list below:

A wide variety of subjects were studied in this rich ecosystem, namely:

Explos-Nature divers deploy a Parks Canada hydrophone.

Beluga 16%
Whales 15%
Coastal habitats 9%
Invertebrates 9%
Fish 8%
Seals 7%
Oceanography 6%
Acoustic 5%
Birds 5%
Others 5%
Navigation 4%
Plankton 4%
Sediment 4%
Contaminants 2%
Invasive species 1%

Ciktek: A new offshore research platform

The Ciktek and its crew during an offshore trip to the Upper Estuary.

The Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation has generously made its hybrid vessel Ciktek and its crew available for scientific purposes. The craft was notably solicited to participate in seal monitoring and censusing in the St. Lawrence Estuary.

Several anemones of this type inhabit the rocky walls of the Saguenay Fjord.

The rocky walls of the Saguenay Fjord and the invertebrates that make their home there were the subject of two studies last summer: one conducted by the Groupe de recherche sur l’écosystème du fjord du Saguenay (GREFS) and another carried out by the Trebek Initiative, a financial collaboration between the National Geographic Society and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Drone image showing the coastal habitat in Baie Sainte-Marguerite undergoing scientific monitoring.

Parks Canada’s new coastal habitat monitoring focuses on the issues of coastal erosion and the characterization of herbaceous zones. The sectors studied were Baie Sainte-Marguerite (in collaboration with Sépaq) and the coves known as Anse Saint-Étienne and Anse Saint-Jean.

3

An increasingly engaged community

Cross-sectoral collaboration is essential to protect the species inhabiting the Marine Park. Numerous stakeholders, partners, residents and visitors contribute to this protection.

Photo : Genevieve LeSieur

1,218 pleasure boaters and kayakers were the targets of outreach efforts on the water and in the marinas.
162 captains and kayak guides passed the exam on the Marine Activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations.
21 places of discovery to learn more about the ecosystems and cultural heritage of the Marine Park.
➔ Parks Canada’s onshore marine mammal observation centres received over 69,000 visitors last year.
➔ Fjord-du-Saguenay National Park presented a new interpretation activity entitled “À la rencontre de deux géants” (Encounter with two giants), which was highly popular at Tadoussac’s Pointe de l’Islet.
➔ The Marine Park was featured in over 50 official film shoots.
2 Two park warden programs are being carried out with the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation and the Essipit Innu First Nation. Carried out in collaboration with Parks Canada, this initiative aims to strengthen the role of First Nations communities in the governance of their ancestral territory and to promote knowledge transmission.
10 members sit on the Marine Park Coordination Committee, which brings together representatives of six adjacent regional county municipalities (RCMs), the Essipit Innu First Nation, the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation as well as representatives of the science and education spheres.

Wahsipekuk Seminar: An expedition to build bridges

In July 2023, the Wahsipekuk Seminar provided an opportunity for 12 members of the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation to explore and learn more about a portion of their traditional territory, Wolastokuk. Their ancestral territory encompasses a sizable portion of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.

Participants in a sweetgrass braiding workshop.

Children from Marie-Victorin de Saint-Siméon school in action during a beach clean-up activity.

Six elementary schools from around the Charlevoix, Haute-Côte-Nord and Saguenay regions participated in beach clean-ups. During these activities, nearly a half tonne of trash (489 kg) was gathered along the shorelines of the Marine Park!

As part of a beluga awareness campaign, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada joined forces to carry out joint patrols in critical beluga habitat. This year, the offshore teams met with 321 individuals between July 22 and August 2.

Parks Canada wardens and Fisheries and Oceans Canada officers get ready to conduct a joint patrol in the Lower Estuary.

4

A late-starting but surprise-packed whalewatching season!

The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue at the start of the season was “Where are all the whales?” Though arrivals to the estuary came later than they did in 2022, a number of noteworthy observations were made during the 2023 season.

A few stats from last season:

40 individual humpback whales identified

5 individual blue whales identified

8 individual fin whales identified 

* These figures represent preliminary data from GREMM’s visual and photo census of large rorquals.

107 harbour seals were tallied in the context of Parks Canada and Sépaq monitoring

Over 117,000 birds representing 95 different species were identified during the course of Parks Canada monitoring efforts carried out in collaboration with the Tadoussac Bird Observatory and the Rimouski Bird Observatory.

Parks Canada’s pelagic prey and predator monitoring detected high concentrations of krill along the northern shore of the Marine Park, which likely contributed to a spike in the number of observations of the largest mammal in the world, the blue whale.

The blue whale is an endangered species and it is unlawful to approach within less than 400 m of an individual (the same distance applies to the St. Lawrence beluga). Watching this species from shore is the best way to avoid disturbing it.

A blue whale feeding off the coast near Les Bergeronnes (archives).

5

Launch of Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park expansion project

In March 2023, the governments of Canada and Quebec took an important step when they announced their intention to begin work to expand the boundaries of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. This project will help protect the biodiversity and ecosystems of the St. Lawrence Estuary, which provides habitat for some 2,200 species, some of which (e.g. beluga) are at risk.

Public consultations are planned for Fall 2024. For further details, visit the webpage for the expansion project.


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