Dewey Soper (Isulijarnik) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Dewey-Soper (Isulijarnik) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located on the south coast of Baffin Island, in Nunavut. It preserves an ideal habitat for geese and many other birds to nest and feed.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Dewey Soper (Isulijarnik) Migratory Bird Sanctuary, located in west-central Baffin Island, Nunavut, was the first sanctuary to be created in the Arctic (est. June 20, 1957). Established with the purpose of protecting the lesser snow geese that nest and feed in the island’s marshy plains, this sanctuary protects a large portion of the Canadian breeding population of this bird.

In 2005, it was estimated that nearly a million snow geese were nesting within and adjacent to the sanctuary. This is the largest known lesser snow goose colony in the world and, during the summer, even higher numbers of geese can be found scattered across the plains. Once the eggs hatch, geese and goslings disperse throughout the sedge lowlands to feed. Non-breeding snow geese use the area along the south shore of the Koukdjuak River as a moulting area. All of the geese begin to leave the area by mid-September.

Lesser Snow Geese
Lesser snow geese at Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Chris Nicolai

Did you know?

Anyone who has been around geese knows that you need to watch where you step, but did you know that it only take an hour or two for food to pass through a goose’s digestive tract? Because this is such a quick process, geese usually generate 6 to 15 droppings per hour!

A variety of other birds also nest in the area, including 50 000 cackling geese, 1 600 Atlantic brant, and large numbers of long-tailed ducks and eiders (both common and king). This sanctuary provides key habitat for the Atlantic brant, which favours the sanctuary’s tidal flats and marshes where it forages on the plants that grow in the brackish or salt waters. Ross’s geese also use the sanctuary, and their numbers have been increasing on the sanctuary’s marshy plains.
Male Common Eider
Male common eider. Photo: Grant Gilchrist


Other migratory species known to breed in the sanctuary include:

  • Sabine’s gull
  • black-bellied plover
  • semipalmated plover
  • white-rumped sandpiper
  • pacific loon
  • red phalarope
  • parasitic jaeger
  • American pipit
  • lapland longspur
  • snow bunting

In total, over 30 bird species have been observed within the sanctuary.

Did you know?

The Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary was named after Joseph Dewey Soper (1893 to 1982), a Canadian zoologist who was a well-known ornithologist, explorer and author who dedicated much of his life to research and exploration of the Canadian Arctic.


This 816 599-hectare protected area borders the southeastern shores of Foxe Basin in the Qikiqtaaluk region and contains the coastal section of the Greater Plain of the Koukdjuak, a vast, flat and featureless marshy lowland underlain by limestone and shale. Inland from the coast, the elevation of the island increases gradually, causing the soil moisture to decrease. Because of this, the vegetation closer to the coast is marshier, growing in clay/mud and creating wet, meadow-type habitats. For the most part, the Koukdjuak Plain is vegetated with a mat of sedges, grasses, mosses and lichens along with other common plants including foxtail, scurvy grass, tufted saxifrage and willow. Roughly 15 meters inland, the terrain becomes higher and less moist, containing more gravel and plants that prefer drier conditions. These plants include:

  • broad-leaved willow herb
  • large-flowered wintergreen
  • labrador-tea
  • arctic white heather
  • alpine bearberry
  • mountain cranberry

This area has impressive tides and this fact, combined with the flatness of the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak, means that when the tide goes out, vast mud flats are exposed. The southern border of the sanctuary is defined by the Putnam Highland, a landmark limestone cliff about 120 metres high. Scatterings of granite outcrops occur throughout the southern end of the plain, including a low scarp east of Bowman Bay known as Eswituk Ridge. Many small, sluggish streams can also be seen flowing across the plain. In addition, the Koukdjuak River drains Nettilling Lake. Innumerable small, circular, shallow (less than 1 metre), muddy ponds also dot the area and are interspersed with swamps.

Map of the area

  • Long description
    Map showing the location of the Dewey-Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dominion, Foxe Bassin, Nettling Lake and Koukdjuak River. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which encloses a small part of Foxe bassin water's and runs inland towards the Baffin Island coast. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters are shown on the map. An insert on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Dewey Soper, are established across the country to protect migratory birds during critical periods of their life cycle. Whether these areas are used for feeding, resting or nesting, they play an important role in the survival of many species. Access to each migratory bird sanctuary varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager. Please ensure that you are aware of how you can help protect this sanctuary and please read the restrictions, including those on firearms and hunting, which are in place to conserve the wildlife that call it home. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large inside Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.

The MBS is managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada in partnership with the Isulijarnik Area Co-management Committee (ACMC) of Cape Dorset, Nunavut.

Access to Dewey-Soper sanctuary may be permitted under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations. Please note that, as per the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, Nunavut beneficiaries do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting in this sanctuary. Other individuals who wish to access Dewey Soper (Isulijarnik) Migratory Bird Sanctuary must apply for a permit.

If you would like further information on what is permitted in Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, please visit the Management and Activities section of the website. For more information on Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Dewey Soper (Isulijarnik) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 66°35' N, 71°30' W
Size 816 599 hectares (includes 159 211 hectares of marine habitat)
Date created (Gazetted) 1957
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Wilderness Area
Additional designations Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary Ramsar site
Great Plain of the Koukdjuak Important Bird Area
Important Area for Birds in Nunavut (Great Plain of the Koukdjuak)
Overlaps with Bowman Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (Nunavut)
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 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.
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
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.

Related link

Dewey Soper (Isulijarnik) Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Google Maps (Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information that can help locate the migratory bird sanctuary and does not represent the official map or site name)

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – 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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