Key Marine Habitat Sites for Migratory Birds in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Mallory, Mark L.
Fontaine, Alaine J.
Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
Publication Date: 

The Canadian Arctic contains much of Canada’s coastal and marine zones, and these areas support
tremendous numbers of marine birds. At the start of the 21st century, the Canadian marine zone is
the subject of much concern as a result of a variety of anthropogenic threats. The Canadian
Wildlife Service (CWS) is the federal agency responsible for the conservation of migratory bird
populations and their habitats in Canada. As part of its mandate, CWS has produced this report
identifying key marine habitat
sites for migratory birds in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. This report serves as a
statement of CWS interest in marine areas where special wildlife conservation measures may be
required, and it is offered as a guide to the conservation efforts of other agencies with
interests in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Approximately 10 million pairs of breeding marine birds use the marine areas in Nunavut and the
Northwest Territories annually for breeding, feeding, migration, moulting, or wintering. In
addition to breeding birds, hundreds of thousands of nonbreeding birds also inhabit
these waters. We have defined a key marine habitat site as an area that supports at least 1% of the
Canadian population of at least one migratory bird species, following the protocols used previously
in Canada and internationally to identify important bird habitats. Marine habitat sites include
coastline, open sea, and polynya–shore lead habitats, although the focus of this report is on the
last two categories. The sites identified in this report are essential to the welfare of many migratory
birds in Canada. As most of these species migrate across international boundaries, many of these
sites are also of international importance. Data for the identification of sites were drawn from
existing published and unpublished reports and from personal communications. Portions of some
sites listed here were identified in an earlier report that focused on terrestrial areas (CWS
Occasional Paper No. 71), where the value of the terrestrial site was integrally linked to the
marine component. Currently, CWS manages 18 migratory bird sanctuaries and national
wildlife areas in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Most of these were set up to protect
terrestrial or coastal wildlife resources; only one was set up specifically to protect a large
marine zone for seabirds, that being the Nirjutiqavvik (Coburg Island) National Wildlife Area.
Nonetheless, the Arctic migratory bird sanctuaries and national wildlife areas contain about
15 000 km2 of marine habitat within their boundaries, providing some protection for selected
marine bird colonies. Many key marine habitat sites are not included in these established sites,
however. In this report, we have identified 34 key marine habitat sites, 20 of which are in
the High Arctic, 13 in the Low Arctic, and 1 in the Boreal oceanographic zones.
The total marine area (excluding islands) included in these sites is 161 000 km2. The largest site
is Amundsen Gulf and the Cape Bathurst Polynya, which includes 30 700 km2 of marine waters,
while the smallest site is East Bay, which encompasses 274 km2. We have also identified those
sites where there are known threats, such as cruise ship tourism or potential oil spill concerns.
Site identification is the first step in getting key marine habitats for migratory birds recognized
and protected at some level. We emphasize that not all of the sites listed in this report are
targeted to become protected areas. The first goal will be recognition and incorporation of these
sites in land use planning by the Nunavut Planning Commission and in planning documents of other
agencies that regulate activi- ties in the Arctic marine environment. Some sites will become
national or marine wildlife areas, with community support, and the information provided here will
help in the establishment of marine protected areas or marine conserva- tion areas.
The identification of key marine habitat sites is a dynamic process, and the importance of each
site needs to be reevaluated on a regular basis. As bird populations fluctuate or sea ice
conditions change, the value of some sites will change and new sites will be discovered. This
report also outlines some of the steps necessary to continue to move the key marine habitat sites
process forward, including addi- tional monitoring of some Arctic seabird colonies, research on
species that have received little attention in Arctic Canada, renewed offshore survey efforts,
and increased collaboration with communities and other partners in marine issues. A review
of this report should be conducted each decade to update the status of various sites and list any
new ones that have been discovered.