Kouchibouguac NP Sand Islands

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The Kouchibouguac National Park Sand Spits and Barrier Islands are located on the east coast of New Brunswick adjacent to the Norththumberland Strait. The site includes the entire barrier beach and sand island area. Locally, these islands and dunes are known as: North Island, North Kouchibouguac dune, North Richibucto dune, Pointe Sapin dune, Portage River dune, South Kouchibouguac dune, and Tern Islands. Much of the area is low and flat with the dominant vegetation being beach grass and strand wheat. Every few years storms wash over the islands and beaches, removing all debris and vegetation. This is an important natural process in that it sets back succession and favours the long-term use of the islands, beaches, and dunes by terns and plovers.

Key biodiversity
The sand spits and barrier islands of Kouchibouguac National Park are especially important as breeding sites for Common Terns and Piping Plovers. Piping Plovers have been identified as both globally vulnerable and nationally endangered.

The main colony of nesting Common Terns (Tern Island) has been inventoried yearly since 1989, and sporadically between 1971 and 1989. Numbers of tern nests have varied from a few thousand in 1971 to a peak of 7,000 nests in 1991, to 4,292 nests in 1996. It has consistently been the largest tern colony in the Maritimes, containing approximately 35% to 40% of the Maritimes Common Tern population. Not only are the islands significant at the regional level, but also at the global level with on average, about 14.5% of the North American Common Tern breeding population being present.

Piping Plovers also breed throughout the sand spit and barrier island area. Over the last five years (1992 to 1997) populations have varied from a low of nine pairs (1994) to a high of 17 pairs (1993). On average over 12 pairs have been present. In this respect, Kouchibouguac supports as much as 6% of Atlantic Canada Piping Plover population and about 1% of the Atlantic coastal Piping Plover population. During recent years, the North and South Kouchibouguac dunes have supported the majority of the Piping Plover territories. The beach and barrier island system, however, is naturally dynamic, and habitats are occasionally changed as a result of storms. When this happens other beaches in the system may become more important as nesting areas.

Other nesting species include Red-breasted Mergansers and Herring, Ring-billed and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
By virtue of their location within Kouchibouguac National Park, the sand spits and barrier islands are relatively well protected with most potential threats being managed. One of the major concerns, however, is the amount of predation on both terns and plovers as a result of the increasing gull numbers throughout the general area (mostly Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, although numbers of Ring-billed Gulls are also increasing). In 1988, gulls were observed nesting on the Tern Islands for the first time, and have increased in number since then. Recently, a nearby waste disposal facility (St. Ignace) was closed, which over the long-term may help to reduce numbers of gulls overwintering in the local area. Fish offal from fish plants in the region and leftovers from the winter smelt fishery, however, are contributing to the overwintering of gulls in the park area. Parks Canada is currently conducting a gull control program in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Other major concerns include the control of visitor access to the Piping Plover and Common Tern nesting areas during the sensitive nesting periods. Most of the more significant locations are posted as areas closed to visitors during the nesting season. High water levels can also reduce the productivity of both the terns and the plovers; however, there is little that can be done to reduce this threat.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kouchibouguac NP Sand Islands. Downloaded from on 18/06/2021.