The continental shelf is the submerged part of a continent that reaches under an ocean from the shoreline to the shelf break where the slope drops down below 650 feet. This shelf extends hundreds of miles in some cases. Nutrients from river deposits and from fertile soil that roils up from deeper water during storms create various suitable habitats for plant and animal life.
Section 1 – Soft Sediment for Animals
Soft, silt and sandy areas such as that found in the Monterey Continental Shelf contain many species from invertebrates to fish which live either on or in is continuously shifting deposits. Some species that thrive in this environment are clams, sea pens, some types of crabs such as Dungeness crabs, cod, pollock, and flatfish i.e. halibut and sole.
Section 2 – Soft Sediment for Plants
The microscopic phytoplankton (plants) that thrives on the rich nutrients provided by the continental shelf water both near the shore and out in open water supply the main food for bottom-dwelling filter feeders and planktonic animals. While marine algae including kelp beds grow close to the shore, the anchored marine plants grow in water to about 100 feet deep. In the soft sediment of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia, Eelgrass, an important element in the marine food chain, supports young fish, shellfish, and many invertebrates.
Section 3 – Rocky Areas for Animals
Rocky hard areas provide protective habitats for anemones, sponges, rockfishes, deepwater coral, basket stars, crinoids, large sessile invertebrates and suspension feeders such as oysters, scallops, and mussels. These rocky crags and crevices offer high diversity benthic (animals and plants that live on the bottom of the sea) life which brings pelagic (animals living in the sea far from land) predators such as seabirds and marine mammals.
Section 4 – Rocky Areas for Plants
Seaweed and Irish moss thrive on rocky outcroppings of the Atlantic coast and love harsh cold winters. Abundant marine seaweed growth attaches to exposed rocky shores along the Atlantic coast where the water movement supplies the nutrients. Algae blankets rocky areas during the warmer months, then gets scraped off during the icy winter storms only to reappear again when the warmer weather arrives.
Section 5 – Fisheries
Larger marine animals including herring, capelin, Bluefin Tuna, and mackerel flourish in areas of the continental shelf where rich supplies of nutritious phytoplankton rise from the shelf floor and zooplankton (microscopic animals) is plentiful, providing large offshore commercial fisheries with seafood to feed the world.