IBA Machias Seal Island
Gulf of Maine/Golfe du Maine, New Brunswick
Site Summary
NB019 Latitude
Longitude
44.502° N
67.101° W
Elevation
Size
0 - 5 m
81.70 km²
Habitats:
open sea, inlets/coastal features (marine)
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Fisheries/aquaculture, Tourism/recreation
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Disturbance, Recreation/tourism
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Continentally Significant: Congregatory Species, Nationally Significant: Threatened Species, Congregatory Species
Conservation status: Migratory Bird Sanctuary (federal)
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Site Description
Machias Seal Island is located in the Gulf of Maine, 25 km southwest of Grand Manan Island. It is an isolated islet of shattered and wave-washed rock, with a small area of grass and forbs overlaying gravelly soils. The tidal range is about 3 to 4m. A lighthouse, two houses and several sheds are the sole buildings on the island. The climate is cool and frequently windy and foggy.

Birds
Machias Seal Island is considered to be the most important seabird colony in the Bay of Fundy. The site supports the only regularly occurring colonies of Arctic Terns, and Atlantic Puffin in New Brunswick, and supports the largest colonies of these species in the Maritimes. Indeed, the Arctic Tern colony may be the largest in North America. Recent surveys (1996 and 1998) recorded an average of 1,964 pairs of Arctic Tern (an estimate for the entire North American population is unavailable). Large numbers of Common Terns are also present with the 1996 and 1998 surveys recording an average of 795 pairs (almost 2% of the estimated North American population). In 1998, about 3,500 pairs of Atlantic Puffins, and 700 pairs of Razorbills (about 1.9% of the estimated North American population) also nested on Machias Seal Island.

Roseate Terns (nationally endangered) occur regularly at Machias Seal Island, although nesting is not confirmed every year. The number of nesting pairs is seldom greater than one or two pairs, but even such a small number is significant since the national population of Roseate Terns is estimated to be only 87 to 137 pairs.

Other seabirds are found on Machias Seal Island in small numbers. A small colony of Leachs Storm Petrels (over 100 pairs) can be found in the north and northeastern parts of the island, and a Common Eider colony is also present with as many as 121 nests being recorded in 1998. There is some evidence to suggest that Common Murres have nested, and Laughing Gulls have been present during the breeding season but nesting is not yet confirmed. In addition to the species already mentioned, over seventy other species of songbirds, raptors and waterbirds were recorded during the 1998 field season.

Small numbers of the nationally endangered Harlequin Duck (eastern population) winter around the island, and are also present during the spring (16 were recently observed in mid-May). During the winter, large concentrations of Purple Sandpipers are also present.




IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Atlantic Puffin 1998 SU 7,000
Bonaparte's Gull 2007 WI 3,000
Common Tern 1947 SU 6,800
Great Black-backed Gull 2007 WI 2,000
Razorbill 1998 SU 1,400
Razorbill 2007 WI 3,000
Roseate Tern 1994 - 1996 SU 2 - 5
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
Machias Seal Island was declared a federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary in 1944. There is a long history of seabird research on the island that began in the 1930s, and has occurred regularly through to the 1990s. A resident warden controls human access to the island and helps prevent gulls from nesting (since gulls predate tern nests). Helicopter trips during the breeding season, made to supply the lighthouse personnel, cause serious disturbance to the birds for brief periods each year. The island is a popular attraction, and summer boat trips, made so visitors can see the seabird colony, are a major source of revenue in the area. High numbers of visitors at the site can potentially cause disturbance, but efforts have been made since the 1970s to control visitation.

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.
   © Bird Studies Canada