Fisheries and Land Resources

Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve and World Heritage Site

Public Notice: Access to view the fossils is by guided tour or permit only.

To book a tour please call the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre at (709) 438-1011.


Please be aware that Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is currently being monitored by cameras for research and conservation purposes. For more information, please contact Natural Areas staff at (709) 438-1012 or (709) 637-2081 or email mistakenpointtour@gov.nl.ca.

Mistaken Point-named for the navigational hazard it poses at the often-foggy southeastern tip of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula-is one of the world's most significant fossil sites. Situated between the town of Portugal Cove South and Cape Race, the 5.7 km2 Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve PDF (2.3 MB) extends along 17 kilometres of coastline. On July 17, 2016, the coastline of Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve was inscribed as a World Heritage Site.

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The Fossils of Mistaken Point

Imprinted upon over 100 of the bedding planes within Mistaken Point's tilted and cleaved sequence of mudstones and sandstones are fossils of the oldest, large, complex life-forms found anywhere on Earth. Known to scientists as the Ediacara biota, these creatures lived from 580 to 541 million years ago, when all life was in the sea.

The oldest and most spectacular assemblage of these fossils - the Mistaken Point assemblage (580 to 560 million years old) - is preserved in Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve. The Reserve is the best place in the world where you can view a 565-million-year-old sea floor that accurately preserves the ecology of these ancient deep sea communities.

The organisms whose fossils now form the Mistaken Point assemblage lived on the bottom of a deep ocean, considerably below the depths that waves or light could reach. At the time, what is now the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland was located between latitudes 40° - 65° South. More than 30 species (20 of which occur within the Reserve) comprise the Mistaken Point assemblage, most of them representatives of extinct groups unknown in our modern world.

Normally, when marine animals die, only bones, shells, and other hard parts are preserved as fossils. The soft-bodied creatures at Mistaken Point lived millions of years before animals developed skeletons, but the imprints of their soft tissues were preserved in place on the muddy sea floor when they were suddenly buried by repeated influxes of volcanic ash-rich sediment. The volcanic ash layers contain crystals of the mineral zircon, which enable geologists to accurately date them. Ediacaran fossils also occur in Russia, Australia, China and Namibia, but the age, abundance and variety of those found at Mistaken Point make the site unique.

PLEASE NOTE: THE REMOVAL OR ATTEMPTED REMOVAL OF FOSSILS IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED

History of Mistaken Point

The fossil beds of Mistaken Point were known to local hunters and residents of nearby communities in the 20th century. Children playing on the exposed beds would comment on the 'flowers in the rocks'. Their significance was not understood until one day in 1967, when Shiva Balak Misra, with his field assistant Paul Thompson, were mapping Precambrian rocks along the coastline, discovered the fossil beds and realized their enormous significance. This was the first record of an Ediacara-type fauna from the Western Hemisphere.

As news of Mistaken Point grew as a result of scientific articles and news reports, concerns were raised about the need to safeguard the site from fossil collectors. Some fossils were stolen, and local community members and academics did what they could to watch over the site and deter any further fossil thefts. A group lobbied for Mistaken Point to be protected, and in 1987, Mistaken Point received permanent designation as a fossil ecological reserve. In 2003 an emergency extension to the west was temporarily added to encompass and protect newly discovered fossils. In 2009 Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve was expanded to permanently protect these new fossil sites.

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Mistaken Point was added to the list of Canada's Tentative List of potential UNESCO World Heritage properties in 2004. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador partnered with the local organization, the Mistaken Point Ambassadors Inc., to submit the Mistaken Point Nomination Dossier for Inscription as a World Heritage Site in 2015. With the successful designation of Mistaken Point as a World Heritage Site on July 17, 2016, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve and World Heritage Site will continue to be managed by the Natural Areas Program, within the provincial Department of Fisheries and Land Resources.

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