One of Quebec’s natural treasures, which holds ancient evidence of the first global mass extinction of animal life on Earth, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Anticosti Island was officially recognized worldwide for its exceptional fossil assemblage by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Saudi Arabia Tuesday morning.
The island is a massive stretch of rocky land that is located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is 17 times the size of the island of Montreal.
It is home to the most complete fossil record of marine life of Earth’s history between 447 and 437 million years ago — a period that was not yet represented on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
There are currently more than 1,440 known fossil species on Anticosti Island from that time period. They demonstrate changes in global climate and sea level that caused the extinction of almost all ocean life on the planet.
The island’s designation includes every fossil layer exposed along the coastline and some riverbeds.
“The site is protected from any development and industrial activity because it is entirely located within a network of strictly protected areas consisting of a proposed biodiversity reserve, a Quebec national park, and two ecological reserves,” a Parks Canada statement of the decision reads.
Anticosti Island, despite its size, is home to only 200 residents. It boasts an abundance of deer, deep canyons, large waterfalls and numerous caves. Its new prestigious status was a long time coming.
Local officials had been pushing for the island to be recognized as a way to encourage tourists to visit and ensure its environmental protection in the face of a heated debate over oil and gas exploration, which began in 2013.
The Quebec government officially banned drilling on the island in 2017.
Anticosti Mayor Hélène Boulanger celebrated the designation in a statement Tuesday.
“This decision confirms that Anticosti Island is a unique place in the world, but above all, that it is essential to protect and showcase its exceptional jewels,” she wrote.
“Today marks the beginning of a great adventure for the people of Anticosti.”
Anticosti Island is now one of nearly 1,200 heritage sites around the world and the 22nd Canadian site to be added to the list.
While it’s ultimately up to Canada to ensure the conservation and management of Canadian sites inscribed on the list, UNESCO says independent international organizations will monitor the site to report on its management and protection.