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Parks & Natural Areas Division

Fortune Head Ecological Reserve

Fortune Head is a rugged cape at the southwestern edge of Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula, just 1.6 km west of the community of Fortune. The rocks in its superbly exposed low cliffs represent the geological boundary between the Precambrian Era and the Cambrian Period.

Two other world-class examples of this Precambrian-Cambrian boundary stratotype are in Siberia (Russia) and Meischum (China). But in 1992 the International Union of Geological Scientists chose to designate Fortune Head as the best example in the world of this significant global stratotype. The designation made it, technically, a Global Stratotype Section and Point, or GSSP. The 2.21-km2 Fortune Head Ecological Reserve was created to protect this important interval.

The fossils in exposed rocks along the cliffs at Fortune Head are also of great interest, because the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary marks a fundamental change in Earth's history: the first appearance of skeletal and bioturbating (sediment eating or mixing) organisms.

Roughly 540 million years ago, marine organisms began to use food more efficiently. The subsequent dramatic increase in species richness and diversity has been termed the "Cambrian explosion." The fossils in Fortune Head Ecological Reserve represent the beginning of this explosion.

The reserve is located in the Maritime Barrens-Southeastern Barrens subregion (pdf). Like other parts of the ecoregion, its landscape is characterized by exposed bedrock and extensive barrens, with tree growth often limited to protected valleys and coves.

Fortune Head was established as a provisional reserve in 1990, and given full ecological reserve status in 1992.