Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Snow Goose picture
Photo: © Snow Goose, Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located in west-central Baffin Island, bordering the southeastern shores of Foxe Basin in the Qikiqtaaluk region, Nunavut. The MBS contains the coastal section of the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak, a vast, flat and featureless marshy lowland underlain by limestone and shale. At its widest point, east of Cape Dominion, the 15-metre contour above sea level is 80 kilometres inland.

Numerous small sluggish streams flow across the plain from old inland beach ridges. The largest of these streams is the Koukdjuak River, which drains Nettilling Lake. Innumerable small, circular, shallow (less than 1 metre), muddy ponds are interspersed with swamps. The high tides of Foxe Basin and the flatness of the terrain result in a tidal zone that extends up to 15 kilometres inland. Scattered granite outcrops, which occur at the southern end of the plain, include a low scarp (Eswituk Ridge) east of Bowman Bay. Raised beach ridges define the boundary between the marshy coastal plain and the drier limestone plateau to the east. The southern border of the sanctuary is defined by the Putnam Highland, a landmark limestone cliff about 120 metres high. For the most part, the Koukdjuak Plain is vegetated with a mat of sedges and grasses, mosses and lichens. Other common plants include foxtail, scurvy grass, tufted saxifrage and willow. On drier granitic sites, commonly found species include Broad-leaved Willow Herb, Large-flowered Wintergreen, Labrador-tea, Arctic White Heather, Alpine Bearberry and Mountain Cranberry.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Dewey Soper MBS, the first Arctic sanctuary to be created, was established on June 20, 1957, to protect the Lesser Snow Geese and their nesting and feeding habitat on the marshy plain. The MBS protects the nesting grounds of a large portion of the Canadian breeding population of Lesser Snow Geese, with almost 1 million geese estimated to be nesting in the sanctuary and adjacent areas in 2005 (960 900). During the summer, much higher numbers of geese, mainly Lesser Snow Geese, are scattered across the plain. This is the largest known Lesser Snow Goose colony in the world. After the eggs hatch, adults and young disperse to feeding areas throughout the sedge lowlands. Non-breeding Snow Geese use the area along the south shore of the Koukdjuak River as a moulting area. By mid-September, the geese begin to leave the area.

An estimated 50 000 Cackling Geese, 1 600 Atlantic Brant and high numbers of Long-tailed Ducks and Eiders (Common and King) nest in the area. The sanctuary is a key area for the Atlantic Brant. This sea goose favours tidal flats and marshes where it forages on plants growing in brackish or salt waters. Increasing numbers of Ross’s Geese also use the marshy plains of the sanctuary. Other recorded breeding migratory species include Sabine's Gull, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pacific Loon, Red Phalarope, Parasitic Jaeger, American Pipit, Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting. Over 30 other bird species have been observed in the MBS.

Access and Activities

MBSs are established for the protection and conservation of migratory birds. Activities that could harm migratory birds, their nests or their eggs are prohibited.

MBSs can be and have been established on private, provincial, territorial and federally owned lands. Access to each MBS varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager.

Where MBSs are located on federal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the management and protection of migratory birds, nests, eggs and habitat. Where MBSs are located on provincial land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests, while the chief game officer of the province is responsible for the management of habitat. Where MBSs are located on private or municipal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests. Habitat management is the responsibility of the landowner.

Access to Dewey Soper MBS may be authorized as per the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations. However, under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, only Nunavut beneficiaries have right of access for the purpose of subsistence harvest and do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting.

For all other users, the standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to Dewey Soper MBS: hunting migratory birds is prohibited and no person shall disturb, destroy or take the nest of a migratory bird or have in his possession a live migratory bird, or a carcass, skin, nest or egg of a migratory bird except under the authority of a permit issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada or unless authorized by the Regulations. Possession of firearms or other hunting appliances is prohibited. Anyone wishing to access Dewey Soper MBS must apply for a permit.

For more information on entry, activities and permits in MBSs, please visit the Management and Activities section of the Migratory Bird Sanctuaries website. For more information on Environment and Climate Change Canada's protected areas, please contact the regional office.

For greater certainty, nothing in this document shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the protection provided for existing Aboriginal or treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada by the recognition and affirmation of those rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Map of the Area

  • Map of the  Dewey Soper  Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Nunavut, Baffin Island, Foxe Basin, Amadjuak Lake and Nettiling Lake. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers a small amount of the water of Foxe Basin, following the shoreline, and extends inland. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Dewey Soper MBS can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name

Summary table

Summary table for Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 66°35' N, 71°30' W
Size in hectares (ha) 816 599 ha (includes 159 211 of marine habitat)
Date created (Gazetted) 1957
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ib - Wilderness Area
Additional designations
Main habitat type Marshy tundra (70%), ponds (10%), open water - marine (19%)
Key bird species Lesser Snow Goose, Cackling Goose, Atlantic Brant, Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider and King Eider
Other species None
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Birds: Ross's Goose, Sabine's Gull, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pacific Loon, Red Phalarope, Parasitic Jaeger, American Pipit, Lapland Longspur, and Snow Bunting.
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region, in collaboration with the Isulijarnik Area Co-Management Committee of Cape Dorset.
Landowners Crown land and Inuit-owned land.

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
Eastern Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 1714
Iqaluit NU X0A 0H0
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
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