Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve was established in 1987 after pressure from the residents of Portugal Cove South and the scientific community to protect the area. The discovery of the world famous Mistaken Point fossil site had begun to draw people to the region. With no regulations in place, this meant that researchers, collectors, and everyone in between could view and remove fossils from the reserve if they desired. It became apparent that protective measures were needed to maintain the integrity of the site and the unique environmental features of the region. Originally, the reserve included 9 kilometers of coastline along Mistaken Point. This was later expanded to accommodate the discovery of more fossils along the coast. Today, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is a 17 – kilometer (5.65 km2) stretch of land that contains some of the oldest recognizable traces of life on Earth.
The main activities that occur within Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve are scientific research, interpretive tours, wild life watching, nature photography, berry-picking and (from Nov. – Feb.) sea duck hunting. Viewing of the fossils is by guided tour only.
Although Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is best known for its role in fossil protection, it also serves to protect the natural environment, and support the health of the areas unique ecoregion known as Eastern Hyper-Oceanic Barrens. This ecoregion can be found along the southern tips of the Burin and Avalon Peninsulas, as well as the north eastern coastal strips of Bay de Verde, Bonavista, and Cape Freels. Shaped by the high winds and cool temperatures caused by a close proximity to the ocean, the vegetation found in this type of environment is typically low growing, and is comparable to vegetation found in areas of Norway and Scotland. Heath moss and low growing berry species are found in high abundance, favoring the high soil acidy. Trees such as balsam fir and spruce, although present, take on a new appearance in this ecoregion as they form small stunted forests referred to locally as Tuckamore. Poor soil drainage and a flat gentle topography have also resulted in the creation of blanket and plateau bogs. These water bodies are found in abundance within the reserve. Despite its desert-like appearance, this ecoregion is teeming with life. Animal species include (but of course, are not limited to) caribou, moose, red fox, coyote, snowshoe hare, willow ptarmigan as well as some sparrow, and warbler species. Closer to the water, sea birds can be found as they return to the area’s cliffs to nest and feed. As of June 2009, a total of 180 bird species had been recorded within the Reserve and its offshore waters (up to 500 metres from the coast). The Reserve hosts a substantial breeding population of black-legged kittiwakes (over 4,100 active nests were counted on June 29, 2009, primarily at the Rookery and Freshwater Cove), together with much smaller numbers of nesting Atlantic puffins, razorbills, common murres, black guillemots, double-crested cormorants, herring and great black-backed gulls. The Eastern Hyper-Oceanic Barrens is truly a unique, and treasured habitat.
Fossils found within Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve represent a pivotal moment in the Earth’s history -when life first got BIG. That is to say, when life began the transition from single celled organisms, to larger, more complex beings. The land that we now know as Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula was once part of a land mass called Avalonia. Avalonia was a micro-continent that was located in the southern hemisphere of the Earth. It was in the southern hemisphere, 580-560 million years ago, that these deep sea organisms lived. A chain of volcanic eruptions caused ash to drift down through the water column, resulting in the formation of extraordinarily detailed trace fossils that we see on today. Mistaken Point is among the top destinations in the world to peer into the lives of these ancient beings, and contains specimens that have not been identified anywhere else in the world. With approximately 10 000 fossils of the world’s oldest, and largest multicellular organisms, as well as the earliest evidence of locomotion in the fossil record, Mistaken Point has certainly earned its title as an UNESCO world heritage site.
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