IBA Akimiski Island
James Bay, Nunavut
Site Summary
NU036 Latitude
52.987° N
81.172° W
0 - 5 m
3,226.64 km²
scrub/shrub, salt marshes/brackish marshes, fen, mud or sand flats (saline), freshwater marsh, open sea
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Hunting
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Egg-collecting, Fisheries, Hunting
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Waterfowl Concentrations, Shorebird Concentrations, Continentally Significant: Congregatory Species, Nationally Significant: Congregatory Species
Conservation status: Migratory Bird Sanctuary (federal)
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Site Description
Akimiski Island is situated just east of the mouth of the Attawapiskat River, in mid-western James Bay. The IBA focuses on the northern shores, which are flat and marshy with beach ridges, and the interior of the island, which features numerous small lakes and ponds, as well as sedge marshlands, and fens. Also part of this site is the eastern half of the south coast, including the eel grass beds at Cape Duncan in the southeastern corner. The vegetation communities present on the island have similarities to both northern Hudson Bay associations and to southern associations.

In addition to its importance for birds, the southern region of Akimiski Island is a maternity denning area and the coasts are a summer retreat for polar bears. The mean annual temperature is approximately 2.5°C and the average rainfall and snowfall are 450 and 250 mm respectively.

Akimiski Island is a critical stopover for thousands of geese, ducks and shorebirds. Single day counts in the 1990s have recorded over 10,000 Brant, which is over 3% of this species global population. It is likely that thousands more Brant use Akimiski Island as a spring staging ground. The mid-continent population of Lesser Snow Geese also use Akimiski Island as a spring staging area. During the 1990s, sprong migration counts of Lesser Snow Geese ranged from 10,000 to 20,000. At least 2,000 Snow Geese also nest on the island.

In 1997, a fall migration count recorded over 100,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers, which is almost 4% of this species global population. A small disjunct population of Marbled Godwits (approximately 1,500 birds) breeds along the southwestern James Bay coast. It is likely that the majority of this small population passes through Akimiski Island during migration.

More than 10,000 pairs or 26% of the Southern James Bay Canada Goose population nests on Akimiski Island and more than 24,000 non-breeders may also be present.

The waters surrounding the island provide important habitat for several duck species, such as Oldsquaw and scoters. In total, 140 species of birds have been recorded on Akimiski Island. Of those, 30 are confirmed breeders and an additional 40 probably breed on the island.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Brant 1973 - 2012 SP 3,460 - 20,000
Marbled Godwit 1995 - 2009 SU 1,300 - 1,500
Semipalmated Sandpiper 1995 - 2009 SU 50,000 - 100,000
Snow Goose 1991 SP 250,000
Waterbirds 1991 SP 250,000
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Potential threats to the island include a 1985 proposal by the Quebec government to dam the mouth of James Bay. If this project was developed, the results could be catastrophic to the James Bay marine and estuarine ecosystem. There is little known about the James Bay population of Marbled Godwits, but because the population is quite small, it may be vulnerable to population declines.

The eastern two-thirds of the island is the Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and the Canadian Wildlife Service has identified most of the coastline as a Key Migratory Bird Terrestial Habitat site.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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