A Thriving Estuary in Eastern Canada
Kouchibouguac National Park, Canada
Created in 1969, Kouchibouguac National Park protects a representative sample of Canada’s Maritime Plain Natural Region and the Atlantic Gulf of St. Lawrence Marine Region. Sloping gently to the coast, the land is generally flat, relieved by some small knolls separating river basins and short, steep river banks in some areas. The name Kouchibouguac (KOOSH-e-boo-gwack) is of Mi’kmaq origin, and translates to “river of long tides”.
Kouchibouguac National Park is managed by Parks Canada, the Canadian federal government agency responsible for protecting and presenting nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage and fostering public enjoyment of these places in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations. Founded in 1911, Parks Canada is the world’s first national parks service and is a global leader in conservation.
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Size and location
Kouchibouguac National Park is situated on the central eastern shore of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, and is part of the physiographic region classified as the Maritime Plain. It is approximately one hour’s drive north of the city of Moncton and covers an area of 239 km2.
Flora and Fauna
The vast majority of the Kouchibouguac National Park is part of the Acadian Forest habitat, providing ideal growth conditions for twenty-four species of trees. Thirty-seven distinct forest types have been identified throughout the park, most of which are coniferous (70%), with smaller amounts of hardwood (23%) and mixed wood forests (7%). Peat bogs dominate nearly 5000 hectares of this park.
Wet depressions saturated by peat accumulation cause a rise in water level around bogs, drowning nearby trees and allowing the peat areas to grow further, eventually becoming ombrotrophic, a bog where all the water is cloud fed. The depth of peat in some areas has been measured at up to six metres, and the bogs themselves are estimated to be approximately 5000 years old.
The park also contains significant areas of salt marshes, estuarine systems, freshwater habitats such as rivers and brooks, and a dynamic coastal system formed by the nearby Barrier Islands. Such a range in habitat within the park allows for a large diversity of animals found throughout. In Kouchibouguac, visitors can witness a variety of wildlife, including the black bear (Ursus americanus), fisher (Martes pennanti), lynx (Lynx lynx), moose (Alces alces) and river otters (Lontra canadensis) on land, with two large mammal species in the waters around the park, including grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and harbour seal (Phoca vitulina). Seven species of reptile, ten species of amphibians, and over 200 species of birds can be found throughout the year within the park.
Kouchibouguac also provides habitat for the largest single species tern colony in Canada, with a population of approximately 25 000 common terns (Sterna hirundo), including around 7 000 nesting pairs yearly, located on Tern Island in the park. The dynamic ecosystem containing around 25 km of shifting sand dunes provides habitat for the endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodus melodus).
A variety of rare plants exist within the park as well, including the dock-leaved knotweed (Polygonum lapathifolium), rayless aster (Aster laurentianus) and the subulate mud weed (Limosella australis) and the endangered Southern Twayblade (Listera australis).
Prior to the establishment of Kouchibouguac National Park, many people used the waters around the park as fishing grounds. After park establishment, some commercial fisheries were temporarily maintained for gaspereau (Aloso pseudoharengus), smelt (Osmerus mordax), eel (Anguilla rostrata) and soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria).
The piping plover (Charadrius melodus melodus), which is found in Kouchibouguac National Park, is a species at risk in Canada. The piping plover is a starling-size shorebird whose plaintive whistle cry can be heard along certain stretches of the Park's sandy beaches. Swimmers and beachcombers have been known to disturb piping plovers inadvertently, even damaging nest and eggs and frightening feeding plover chicks.
Other species at risk in Canada found in Kouchibouguac National Park include the wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta), seven bird species and two plant species, including the Beach pinweed ( Lechea maritima), of which 55% of the world’s population is found within the park, and the St-Lawrence aster (Symphyotrichum laurentianum).
Dealing with the threats
In an effort to increase the health of the estuary within the park, and restore stocks of commercial fish species, Parks Canada Agency has started a voluntary payment program for fishers wishing to relinquish eligibility to fish commercially in the area. In the first year of the program, over 80% of all soft-shell clam fishers chose to relinquish this eligibility. The second year focused on smelt, eel and gaspereau, and saw similar success. Park staff is monitoring the populations of these species and forecast that within only a few years, the stocks will be significantly higher.
To prevent disturbance to piping plovers and to allow them to successfully hatch and raise their young, important breeding, nesting, rearing and staging areas are temporarily closed to the public at critical periods during the spring and summer.
Park workers have recently concluded a 3-year study of the wood turtle population in the park and the greater ecosystem around it, where over 40 turtles were tagged and monitored. In doing this research, workers discovered the first recorded instance of wood turtles living in salt-water estuaries, where approximately 5 turtles were witnessed living for in excess of a month. Park researchers also witnessed the longest recorded overland distance traversed by a wood turtle (approximately 4 km).
Opportunities for Enjoyment
Parks Canada is committed to make every national park a treasured place and a living legacy for all Canadians, connecting hearts and minds to a stronger, deeper understanding of the very essence of Canada. Visitors can experience the wonders of Kouchibouguac National Park through a host of exciting family activities. Kouchibouguac offers 60 km of cycling paths, popular with both cyclists and hikers. Other activities offered throughout the year include bird watching, swimming, camping, canoeing and kayaking. Winter activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and tobogganing.
Visitors to this park are encouraged to explore the salt-water lagoon and experience the plant and animal life throughout. Sea snails, sand shrimps, sticklebacks and several other species thrive in the lagoon. Exploring, catching creatures in a dip net, examining them and the releasing them back into the wild will provide entertainment for all ages when participating in interpretation programs.