IBA Desolation Sound
Refuge Cove, British Columbia
Site Summary
BC067 Latitude
50.167° N
124.707° W
0 m
343.40 km²
open sea, inlets/coastal features (marine)
Land Use:
Fisheries/aquaculture, Tourism/recreation
Potential or ongoing Threats:
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Threatened Species, Congregatory Species
Conservation status: Marine Park (provincial or federal)
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Site Description
Desolation Sound is situated on the mainland coast of British Columbia at the northeastern end of the Strait of Georgia. The City of Campbell River is about 40 kilometers to the west across the strait. The IBA includes the coastal waters of the sound, from the Gifford Peninsula north to the Redonda islands. There are steeply sloping forested lands surrounding these waters although none of this land is within the IBA. Significant amounts of logging have occurred in the forests.
Large numbers of Marbled Murrelets feed on the waters of Desolation Sound in the summer. Between about 4,000 and 5,000 of this nationally threatened bird species are found here at this time of year. This number is a little over 1% of the global population, and about 10% of the estimated Canadian population. Researchers have been surveying the birds of the sound since 1991 in the summer and since 2000 in the winter. The birds are present through the summer, and in the early fall when in moult, but only very small numbers are present in the winter.

While some of these breeding season murrelets are certainly coming from forests on the adjacent hillsides, it is not known from how far away these birds are coming. Nor is it known what portion are breeding versus non-breeding birds. Eighty-five murrelet nest locations have been found in the forests and subalpine area in the forests adjacent to the sound and outside the IBA. Birds were radio-collared when on the sea and then nest locations were found using radio-telemetry techniques from a helicopter. Presumably all or most of these birds feed in the sound.

Birds seen on the water may also be coming from the Toba River watershed, at the far head of the sound, as this was the watershed on the mainland coast with the largest numbers of murrelets recorded in radar surveys conducted in 2000.

Hundreds of Surf Scoters, Barrow's Goldeneyes, Bonaparte's Gulls, and Harlequin Ducks are seen in the sound in the fall. Small numbers of Black Oystercatchers, Bald Eagles, and Glaucous-winged Gulls breed along the coastline.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Marbled Murrelet 1995 SU 5,000
Marbled Murrelet 2015 WI 650
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
In the summer, pleasure boaters are extremely common on the water. This is partly so because the southern part of the IBA is the Desolation Sound Marine Park. Although somewhat disturbed by boating activity, the murrelets tend not to flush off the water unless a boat is heading directly towards them.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
   © Birds Canada