The Queen Maud Gulf Lowlands cover an area of over 60,000 km˛ in the central Canadian Arctic. They are located approximately 75 km south of the community of Cambridge Bay and are bounded to the north by the Queen Maud Gulf. The landscape is comprised of a flat plain of Precambrian bedrock, overlain with glacial till, marine clays and silts, that extends approximately 135 km inland. Much of the area has recently emerged from the sea. In low-lying areas the vegetation consists of wet sedge meadows and marsh tundra, while the upland areas contain lichens, mosses, and vascular plants.
There are about 60 goose colonies scattered throughout the Lowlands. These colonies contain over 90% of the world population of Ross' Geese and more than 30% of the Western Canadian Arctic, Lesser Snow Goose population. In 1996, the largest colony was at Karrak Lake contained an estimated 291,000 Ross' Geese and 297,000 Snow Geese. In total, 1998 working estimates of all breeding colonies revealed 982,000 Ross' Goose and 1,384,000 Snow Goose. While these preliminary estimates are thought to be perhaps as much as twice the real number, they still show that an incredible increase has taken place.
Surveys conducted in the coastal section, and up to 50 km inland in 1990 and 1991 documented globally significant numbers of several other waterfowl species. These included: as much as 18% of the eastern Tundra Swan population (7% of the North American population); 14% of the mid-continent Greater White-fronted Goose population; approximately 5% of the Pacific Brant population; 10 to 12% of the Short-grass Prairie Canada Goose population; about 1% of the mid-continent Northern Pintail population; 6% of the west/central North American King Eider population; and just over 2% of the global Sandhill Crane population.
The Sanctuary may harbour significant populations of shorebirds such as Pectoral Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and American Golden-Plovers. The tundra Peregrine Falcon, listed as nationally vulnerable, is the third most common raptor in the area after Rough-legged Hawk and Snowy Owl.
Note: species shown in bold indicate that their population level (as estimated by the maximum number) exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (national, continental or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurence.
The Queen Maud Gulf Lowlands are among the most extensive wetlands in the central Arctic. The site encompasses part of the Bathurst caribou calving grounds, and is home to a large population of muskoxen. The Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Canada's largest, was established in 1961 to protect what were then the only known nesting grounds of Ross' Geese, and the nesting/feeding grounds for the largest variety of geese in any single area in North America. The area has also been recognized as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
A recent increase in mineral exploration to the east of the Queen Maud Gulf has resulted in pressure on the CWS to permit mineral exploration in the Sanctuary. The CWS recently recommended that the designation of the Sanctuary be changed to a National Wildlife Area to provide stronger protection to the area. The proposal is currently on hold, pending resolution of other land use issues in the region.
The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife
International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada.