Bell Island is the southern-most of two islands that are generally referred to as the Grey Islands. They are located off the eastern side of the Great Northern Peninsula. The northern coast of Groais Island, about 30 km to the north, has been identified as a separate IBA. Bell Island is a large forested island with rocky shores and coastal cliffs. To the south and west lie two offshore islands: Shepard and Île aux Canes. These islands, and the marine areas that surround them, are important for both nesting and wintering eiders. The ocean in this area is generally ice-covered from mid-January to April, with the Labrador Current carrying northern-formed sea ice to the region. However, the prevailing westerly winds create open leads of water along the eastern side of Bell Island.
The islands off the south coast of Bell Island support the largest colony of nesting Common Eiders on insular Newfoundland. It is estimated that at least 1,000 pairs of the dresseri subspecies nest there. This would represent over 1% of the estimated population for this subspecies. During winter, large numbers of eiders from the northern (borealis ssp.) population congregate in the same area, with several thousand being recorded in the open water leads around the islands. However, during aerial surveys completed in the winter of 1995, no birds were recorded in this area, although large numbers were observed about 50 km to the north around the Fischot Islands. It is likely that the wintering eiders move around, with the local ice conditions dictating their location.In addition to eiders, some reports, although not substantiated, suggest that 20 or more Harlequin Ducks have been observed at the southern end of Bell Island during the summer. If confirmed, these sighting would be significant, as the eastern population of Harlequin Ducks is thought to contain only 1,500 individuals and is designated as nationally endangered.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The area off the south coast of Bell Island has been included in the Southern Grey Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This site, which provides year-round protection from hunting, is the only federal bird sanctuary on insular Newfoundland. Since there is relatively little ship traffic in this region, the threat of marine disaster resulting from an oil spill is not as high as in other coastal areas of Newfoundland.