New Brunswick

First evidence of prehistoric animal life found at Cape Enrage

Cape Enrage may be closed for the 2020 season but that hasn’t stopped historical discoveries from being made.

Fossils of animal footprints from 320 million years ago have been discovered onsite.

Cape Enrage is closed for the 2020 season because of COVID-19, but that hasn't stopped geologists from making a major fossil discovery there. (Tourism New Brunswick)

Cape Enrage may be closed for the 2020 season, but that hasn't stopped researchers from making discoveries about prehistoric life there.

Scientists found fossil evidence of animal life at Cape Enrage dating back 320 million years. It's the first evidence of animal life found at the location. 

"It's going to be great for us," said Jim Campbell, the manager of Cape Enrage, who described the site as a "little sibling" of the Hopewell Rocks, about 40 kilometres northwest on the Bay of Fundy.

Normally, Cape Enrage sees about 24,000 visitors per season and Campbell thinks these fossils will draw more people in. 

Mathew Stimson, the assistant curator of geology and paleontology at the New Brunswick Museum said looking at the fossils is like looking at a beach surface or river channel.

"It's just like looking back in time when all these animals were walking around and leaving their tracks. It's a moment in time captured in rocks," he said.

Cape Enrage was already known for fossil plant finds, but now researchers have discovered footprints of amphibians, reptiles, millipedes, horseshoe crabs and other crustaceans.

Campbell hopes to one day build an interpretation centre to showcase the fossils and other finds. He said because they're not-for-profit. it might be a challenge.

Jim Campbell, manager of Cape Enrage, said he thinks the discoveries will draw more visitors next year. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

"We've been reaching out to people and corporations to see if they'd like to partner with us and that certainly is a big hope, that we can have an interpretive centre." 

The fossils were discovered when Stimson and his field partner went to clean up research they'd already conducted. 

"We went to double check a few things and make a few notes, and a beautiful layer of rock that had just become exposed was shedding pieces of shale that were covered in tracks."

He said one interesting thing they found was the footprints of both adult and juvenile horseshoe crabs. He said because the fossils were found where they originated and not picked up and moved, it was possible to see which layer of rock the fossils originated.

"If we don't know which layer it comes from, we can't put it into context. It's really important for New Brunswickers to know and tourists to know these fossils are protected and really special for science." 

Campbell said they're using the COVID-19 closure to do major renovations to the lighthouse and other buildings. He hopes those renovations and the new fossil discoveries will make for a busy 2021 season.

With files from Information Morning Moncton