Aktapok Island is located approximately 70 km from the mainland of northern Quebec near the centre of Ungava Bay. Steep cliffs rise approximately 250 metres from the sea to a mostly flat-topped plain that is vegetated by sparse upland tundra. The bedrock is mostly limestone of Ordovician origin.
In addition to being important for colonial seabirds, the waters surrounding the island are important for many marine mammals including walruses and seals. The island is also thought to be an important summer retreat and possible maternity denning area for Polar Bears.
Akpatok Island is identified as an Important Bird Area due to the large numbers of Thick-billed Murres that nest on cliffs. There are two main colonies: one located on the north coast, and the other on the southeast coast. In 1983, the northern colony extended for approximately 14 km along the coast and contained an estimated 173,000 breeding pairs. The southern colony, which was surveyed in 1982, occupied approximately 15 km of coastline and was estimated to contain 120,000 breeding pairs. Both of these estimates are believed to be low, with the total population on Akpatok Island thought to be between 300,000 and 400,000 pairs in 1986, and more recently, as high as 600,000 pairs. A detailed survey, however, has not been completed recently, though some banding operations have been carried out since the 1983 surveys. Based on these data, Akpatok Island may contain 2.7% to 3.6% (possibly as high as 5.4%) of the global and possibly as much as 9% of the North Atlantic Thick-billed Murre population.
In addition to Thick-billed Murres, approximately 300 to 500 pairs of Black Guillemots breed along the rocky coasts. Numerous Peregrine Falcons (ssp. tundrius - nationally vulnerable) and Gyrfalcons are thought to nest on the Island as well.
Note: species shown in bold indicate that their population level (as estimated by the maximum number) exceeds at least one of the IBA threshold (national, continental or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurence. * : date is only an approximation.
As with most seabird colonies, the murres are particularly susceptible to disturbance while nesting. The isolated location of the colony, however, results in minimal disturbance, although there is some subsistence hunting by Inuit, occasional research on the seabirds, and some tourism. While the murres are foraging at sea, and later during their swim migration to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, they are especially susceptible to oiling.
Akpatok Island has also been identified as a Key Habitat Site for migratory birds in the Northwest Territories and a priority site for conservation area status. The Canadian Wildlife Service is awaiting the conclusion of the Makivik land claim negotiations for this area before beginning consultations with the Inuit of Northern Quebec to identify protected area status for Aktapok Island. The island has also been designated as a significant site under the International Biological Programme (IBP). Although there are no special regulatory controls in place for protecting IBP sites, the designation serves to highlight the ecological importance of the area.
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.