Atlantic Coast Guard Islands need protection as National Wildlife Areas

With the federal government’s announcement last month that three new National Wildlife Areas will be established in Nunavut, I have a suggestion on where they can next turn their attention — the Atlantic Coastal Islands.

Over the past two decades, the Canadian Coast Guard has decommissioned several lighthouse stations in Atlantic Canada that are also significant areas for birds. Endangered birds like the Piping Plover, Peregrine Falcon and Harlequin Duck, huge colonies of sea birds like Storm Petrels and eider colonies inhabit these areas. This is not unusual as lighthouses are typically located on remote sites such as islands or the tip of a peninsula where seabirds feel safe from most predators and therefore establish colonies.Currently, though many of these sites are in public ownership, they face precarious futures. Why not secure the future of the sites for conservation by designating them as National Wildlife Areas?

The Canada Wildlife Act, passed in 1973, authorized Environment Canada, through the Canadian Wildlife Service to establish protected areas to conserve essential habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife in the national interest, and was relevant because migratory bird sanctuary regulations at the time did not provide for habitat protection.

National Wildlife Area designation provides the strongest form of habitat protection available to Environment Canada. Once a NWA is designated, regulations prohibit harmful activities on the site at all times, with protection extending to the full habitat.

The Canada Wildlife Act also stipulates that public education and research are goals of national wildlife areas. It is intended that management plans be written and regularly updated for each NWA and MBS. Unfortunately most NWAs and MBSs either have no management plan or plans that are woefully out-of-date. Fewer than five of the 143 areas have plans that are less than 10 years old!

There are 51 National Wildlife Areas in this system with an area totalling over 529,000 hectares, and 92 migratory bird sanctuaries with a total size of over 11 million hectares.

These sites comprise approximately 14% of the protected area sites in Canada.

Nature Canada would like to see some or all of the following Atlantic Coast Guard sites added to the family of NWAs. We, our supporters and affiliates urge the government — whichever one we get this fall — to provide adequate resources to these areas so that they are monitored, managed and protected adequately. This would amount to about $35 million per year, rather than the approximately 4 million that the federal government currently allocates. Otherwise many of these areas remain under threat.

Atlantic Canada Coast Guard sites that should be considered for National Wildlife Areas:

Grindstone Island, NB – This island is part of a larger complex of islands at the western head of the Bay of Fundy, and is part of the globally significant Shepody Bay West IBA. The only island in Chignecto Bay, Grindstone Island supports at-risk Peregrine Falcons as well as the second largest colony of Great Blue Herons in New Brunswick.

South Wolf Island, NB – This island is part of a continentally significant IBA in the Bay of Fundy south of Black’s Harbour, New Brunswick. The waters of this IBA regularly play host to wintering and staging Harlequin Ducks (listed as special concern). Nesting Common Eiders, Herring Gulls, Black-backed Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes are also found here.

Cascumpec Sand Hills, PEI – This sand dune barrier island is located in a large bay at the base of Prince Edward Island’s northeast peninsula, on the east coast. The island is part of a continentally significant IBA. Endangered Piping Plovers nest on this island in some years, and the bay around the island supports large numbers of staging Canada Geese.

Country Island, NS – This island is in the vicinity of southeast Nova Scotia’s Country Harbour and Tor Bay. It is a globally significant IBA, and hosts significant colonies of breeding birds, including up to 50,000 pairs of Leach’s Storm-Petrels. The site is also an important breeding colony for endangered Roseate Terns.

St. Paul Island, NS – This island, located 25 km off the northern tip of Nova Scotia, is a nationally significant IBA. Its dense coniferous forests are key breeding grounds for Bicknell’s Thrush (listed as special concern), with up to 25 territorial males found on the island during breeding season.

Sable Island, NS – Located 150 km off the eastern coast of mainland Nova Scotia, this island is a globally significant IBA and is designated a federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The island supports virtually the entire global population of the special concern princeps subspecies of Savannah Sparrow (known as Ipswich Savannah Sparrows). Additionally, the island supports significant breeding colonies of Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, and Common Terns as well as occasional nesting by endangered Roseate Terns. The island is also an important breeding and resting location for several seal species.

(Photos: Piping Plover, Harlequin Duck, Roseate Tern)