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Sable Island, Nova Scotia (NS025)

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Sable Island, Nova Scotia (NS025)

Nova Scotia - Offshore, Nova Scotia

Latitude 43.951°N
Longitude 59.912°W
Altitude 0 - 15m
Area 461.89km²

Site Description

Sable Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean about 150 km off the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. The 41 km sandbar island is located on the continental shelf, and is based on a (former) moraine. It is partly eroded each winter, with the sand being re-deposited each summer. There is a constant shifting of the partially vegetated sand dunes and offshore bars - the patterns depending on direction and force of major storms. But on average, there has been little change over the last 200 years. The climate is maritime: windy and mild, with snow seldom lying on the ground for more than a few days. The tide range is about 2 m. About 16,000 Grey Seals pup on the island each January, with about 500 Harbour Seals pupping each June.

Birds

Sable Island supports practically the entire population of the nationally vulnerable Ispwich Savannah Sparrow (ssp. princeps) - a few errant females have nested with male Savannah Sparrows on mainland beaches in Halifax County, Nova Scotia. During an extensive study during the late 1960s and 1970s, the average population recorded was about 2,300 adults in the late spring and about 10,000 in the late summer.

Sable Island also supports large numbers of nesting colonial waterbirds, some in globally significant numbers, such as Herring Gulls (2,000 pairs in 1970, representing over 1% of the North American population), Great Black-backed Gulls (600 pairs in 1998, representing over 1% of the North American population), and Common Terns (2,570 pairs in 1995, representing about 5% of the North American population). The nationally threatened Roseate Tern also nests here, with 10 pairs of them estimated among the larger colonies of Common and Arctic Terns in 1985. In August of that year, a rocket net sample of a flock of about 1,000 terns yielded four Roseate Terns out of the 70 that were caught. If this was a representative sample, as many as 60 adult Roseate Terns may have been present. During the mid 1990s, estimated numbers of nesting Roseates have ranged from a low of one pair in 1997 and 1998, to a high of four pairs in 1993.

The numbers of terns nesting on the island was formerly much larger, being estimated at close to a million birds at the turn of the century. Tern numbers have declined on the island, likely as a result of the increasing numbers of nesting Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Conservation Issues

Public access to the island has been restricted by departmental rulings for most of the 20th century, with only a few unauthorized visits being made each year. Like all sand dune areas, the site is vulnerable to erosion from overuse. Proposed ecotourism, at any economically profitable level, would increase this problem. Offshore oil/gas exploration and extraction could potentially result in pollution, but gull numbers, are likely the major threat to the tern populations.

Sable Island has been identified as a core site in the Canadian Roseate Tern Recovery Plan (1993). The goal of this plan is to increase the Canadian population to 200 breeding pairs by the end of the first decade of the next century, 125 of them breeding on Sable Island and the remainder on productive colonies on coastal islands. Gull management on Sable Island was to be initiated in 1993, but it was blocked by the public response. No further plans for management at this colony have been made.

Initiatives are underway to develop a Sable Island Nature Society. It would be a non-profit partnership formed between private industries, government, and local nature groups to preserve the integrity of Sable Islands flora and fauna.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Herring Gull
Number Year Season
4,0001970Summer
Savannah Sparrow
Number Year Season
502016Fall
300 - 6002015Fall
252013Summer
7,0001971Fall
4,0001971Summer
10,0001970Fall
2,3001970Summer
Roseate Tern
Number Year Season
152009Other
102008Other
42007Other
11998Summer
21997Summer
61994Summer
81993Summer
201985Summer
301980Summer
Great Black-backed Gull
Number Year Season
1,5502017Winter
1,2001998Summer
1,2601970Summer