Naujavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Naujavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located north of Bathurst Island, in Nunavut. It protects quality habitat for a large ivory gull colony and many other birds.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS, established in 1975, is located 30 kilometres north of Bathurst Island within the Berkeley group of Islands in the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut. The MBS is located 18 km northwest of the Qausuittuq National Park. This National park established in 2015, covers the whole nortwestern part of Bathurst Island complex from Helena Island in the North to Nanuit Itillinga National Wildlife Area in the South. The Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS is a crucial site for the endangered Ivory Gull, which is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act. The most important and largest known colony in Canada of this rare species is found within the sanctuary.

Image of Ivory gulls seen on Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS
Ivory gulls in Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS. Photo: Mark Mallory

In 1976, it was estimated that the Naujavaat (Seymour Island) ivory gull colony was comprised of 150 breeding pairs. However, since 2002 the number of breeding pairs has consistently been estimated at fewer than 50. This number indicates that the colony represents up to 20% of the known breeding population of this species. Other smaller breeding colonies can also be found along the coast of Ellesmere and Devon islands. In 2011, it was determined that the ivory gulls that nest on Naujavaat (Seymour Island) sometimes prefer to nest on Devon Island, suggesting an interchange between the two locations. It is unknown if this is due to predation or perhaps variation in inter-annual conditions on the islands.

Ivory gulls are present in the sanctuary from late May to September, nesting in groups on the island’s raised beaches where the rock-strewn landscape helps to shelter the downy chicks from wind and predators and allows the birds to feed in the sheltered bays and freshwater ponds. Known to be very sensitive to disturbance, Ivory gull colonies are generally found in remote, ice-bound areas where few other animal species live. This species is also known to react severely to human disturbance, sometimes abandoning their nests, while at other times destroying their own eggs and young. Due to local conditions, disturbances, and other factors, the local populations and breeding success of these birds fluctuate considerably from year to year.

Did you know?

The ivory gull is the only gull whose plumage is normally completely white. Albino gulls of any species may have all white feathers, but they would not have the ivory gull’s characteristic black legs and yellow bill.

Image of Ivory gulls nesting at Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS
Ivory gulls nesting at Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS. Photo: Mark Mallory

Over 30 other bird species have been observed on Naujavaat (Seymour Island) and glaucous gull, snow bunting, king eider and Atlantic brant are all known to nest in the sanctuary. Predators are also found within the sanctuary and include long-tailed jaeger, snowy owl and Thayer’s gull. Two predatory and transient mammals, polar bear and arctic fox, have also been recorded on the island. Peary caribou also make an appearance on the island as do collard lemmings, whose numbers are known to rise and fall dramatically over time. The presence of bears and foxes has been associated with fluctuations in breeding success in the ivory gull colony and, as such, these animals may be severely disruptive to their breeding.


While the Naujavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompasses Seymour Island itself, the majority of the sanctuary is marine habitat with a boundary that extends 3.2 kilometres from the island’s high-water line. Seymour Island is a tiny reef-like projection amidst the sea ice pack. At less than 3 kilometres long and having a maximum elevation of 28 metres above sea level, this mostly barren island is made up of a series of raised, rocky (cobble) beaches covered by fractured rock. Seymour Island has several freshwater ponds in its southwestern portion. Vegetation is sparse, covering less than 1% of the island, and consisting mostly of lichens and mosses. Only nine species of vascular plants have been recorded here.

In the winter, high ice ridges form on the island’s north and south coasts and along parts of the west coast. As Seymour Island remains ice-locked for most of the year, the wildlife that breeds on the island travels to the nearby Penny Strait where polynyas allow access to open water foraging.

Did you know?

A polynya is an area of open water within the sea ice that is kept open by wind or currents. Some polynyas occur in the same location each season, allowing wildlife to adapt to their reliable presence and to use them during their life cycle.

Map of the area

Image map of Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Map of Naujavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS)
  • Long description

    Map showing the Naujavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Nunavut, Helena Island, Seymour Island and Maclean Strait. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which contains Seymour Island and many of the surrounding waters. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters are shown on the map. An inset on the map shows the location of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Canada.

Access to the Sanctuary

Management of the Protected Area Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Naujavaat (Seymour Island), 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.

Entry and access to most Migratory Bird Sanctuaries is not restricted, however the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulationsset out the activities that are prohibited.  The Minister of Environment has the authority to authorize or permit activities in Migratory Bird Sanctuaries that are otherwise prohibited.

Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Inuit from Resolute Bay, Nunavut, as part of a co-management agreement established through the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area (IIBA). The Sulukvaut Area Co-Management Committee (ACMC) was formed through the IIBA and provides advice on all aspects of the MBS, permit applications, research conducted within the MBS, visitor use of the area, and management and protection of migratory birds and bird habitat. In Nunavut, Nunavut Inuit, as per the Nunavut Agreement (NA), can hunt wildlife, including the collection of migratory bird eggs and feathers for their economic, social and cultural needs (Section 5 of the NA).  Access to Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS by anyone other than Inuit enrolled under the NA is restricted; therefore, any non-Inuit must obtain a permit to access or conduct any activity within the MBS. Activities that may be permitted will be in accordance with the conservation objectives of the MBS management plan.

If you would like further information on what is permitted in Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, please visit the Management and Activities section of the website. More information on access and permitting for Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Key facts about Naujavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Key facts about Naujavaat (Seymour Island) MBS
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 76°48' N, 101°16' W
Size 5,302 hectares (island size): 172 hectares terrestrial and 5,130 hectares marine
Reason for creation of protected area To protect nesting site of the endangered Ivory Gulls.
Date created (Gazetted) 1975
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Strict Nature Reserve (Ia)
Additional designations
  • Seymour Island Important Bird Area
  • Seymour Island International Biological Programme (site 1 to 7)
Main habitat type
  • Open water (95%)
  • Cobble beaches, fractured rock, and freshwater ponds (5%)
Keystone or flagship species Ivory gull
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Invasive Species None Confirmed
Other species Birds:  Mammals: 
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Northern Region, in collaboration with the Sulukvaut Area Co-Management Committee of Resolute Bay
Public access and usage Nunavut Inuit have a free and unrestricted right of access for the purpose of harvesting to all lands, waters, and marine areas within the MBS, as per Article 5 of the IIBA and subject to s.5.7.18 of the Nunavut Agreement.
For all non-Nunavut Inuit, a permit may be required to access or conduct activities in the MBS, particularly if firearms will be carried and/or migratory birds may be disturbed.

Contact us

Environment Canada – Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
Eastern Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 1870
Iqaluit NU X0A 0H0

Telephone: 867-975-4642
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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