Barachois of Malbaie

In Quebec, a barachois is a term used to describe a coastal lagoon separated from the ocean by a sand bar. Salt water may enter the barachois during high tide and the sand bar is formed as a result of sediment deposited in the delta region of a river. The Barachois of Malbaie is a unique freshwater estuary, located near Perce, at the easternmost tip of the Gaspe Peninsula, at the far end of the Chaleurs Bay.

The salt marsh is a 2,471-acre estuarine lagoon is isolated from the ocean by a sand bar or spit measuring four miles in length. In fact, the Barachois of Malbaie is the largest intact natural lagoon remaining in Quebec. It provides critical coastal habitat for a variety of fauna and flora, including the rare Yellow Rail. The  freshwater area is fed by a 103,784-acre watershed, which includes four major rivers: the Malbaie River, the Beattie River, Du Portage River and the Murphy River, of which the Malbaie is a designated Salmon river of Quebec (a river where fishermen are allowed to fish salmon having bought a licence).

This supply of fresh water, combined with salt water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, creates here an estuarine lagoon with freshwater, brackish and salt marshes. Aquatic and upland habitats, such as marsh, forest and raised bog are found behind the sands. The lagoon and Point St. Peter are part of an important Bird Area. The site hosts over two hundred bird species, of which 102 breed on-site.

Besides, the Malbaie Salt Marsh's estuarine habitat is an important stopover area for migrating waterfowl, including Brant and American Black Duck. The estuary also offers breeding habitat for the Yellow Rail, which is a species of special concern in Canada, and the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, considered a threatened bird in Quebec. Many other rare and migratory birds are seen in the area, such as the Bicknell’s Thrush, Bald Eagle, Harlequin Duck, Short-eared Owl and Barrow's Goldeneye.

The lagoon and Malbaie River’s mainstream channel provides habitat for 25 fish species. They include species of concern such as the Striped Bass, the Atlantic Cod and the Atlantic Salmon. This makes the Barachois of Malbaie one of the most diverse fish ecosystem in Quebec. Sixteen species of mammals have been spotted near the Barachois, including Moose, Coyote, Black Bear, Bobcat, Red Fox, Fisher, Beaver, Racoon, River Otter, Porcupine, Snowshoe Hare, Mink and other species.

Vegetation is dominated by low marsh species, such as spartina marsh grasslands. The most important colony of Gaspesie Arrow-grass in Quebec is located here. Other habitats include mixed wood wetlands, river beaches and sand flats. Two peat bogs host various species of plants and mosses, including the Northern Dwarf Huckleberry.

This species is of concern in Quebec. Working in partnership with municipal authorities of Perce and other institutions, the Nature Conservancy of Canada - NCC in Quebec has opened a birding information centre to the public in Barachois Village. NCC staff operate the birding centre, conduct interpretation and stewardship activities on the sandbar and nearby wetlands, perform biological inventories and educate the local public.

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