Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Life on the Rocks in Point Riche

Marine gastropod fossil
One of my favourite moments during a visit to western Newfoundland is the "life on the rocks" exploration of Point Riche. The headland lies near the town of Port-au-Choix, on the island's Great Northern Peninsula, and its white octagonal lighthouse with a bright red lantern room is a striking sight. Below the lighthouse, though, is where this spot's treasures are found. In the broad limestone beds on the shore, thousands of marine fossils, mostly cephalopods and gastropods can be seen.  It takes only a moment for the eye to become accustomed to the search; when it has, a scan of the rocks reveals one tight spiral after another, sometimes dozens within a space the size of a small notebook.

Fossils at Point Riche
Among the fossils are tidal pools that evaporate quickly in the summer sun, leaving a rim of salt around their edges. In the cracks of the rock, tiny plants take root in the most challenging of circumstances. Minke whales, seals and dolphins can occasionally be seen passing by, and when there are small fish like capelin or juvenile herring in the area, northern gannets knife into the water. There is a small herd of caribou living in the area, and a few moose can also be seen from time to time.

The limestone barrens on the Northern Peninsula are home to many varieties of calcium-loving plants, some of them found only in this environment, so it's necessary to tread carefully on the plateau above the shore. Just up the road, also part of the Port-au-Choix National Historic Site, is an interpretation centre that concentrates on the area's remarkable human history; a succession of occupations of the area by various cultures go back some 6000 years.

The nearby towns of Port au Choix and Port Saunders are centres for fishing in the area, and there are restaurants, hotels and other services nearby.

A miniature garden among the rocks

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