This recurring nearshore polynya lies ai the 66-98 foot (20-30 m) isobath south of the Chukotsky Peninsula between Meechkin Spit and Cape Chukotsky. It extends 37-43 miles (59-69 km) from shore and in warmer winters may connect with the St Lawrence island polynya to the southeast. The polynya is formed by a combination of prevailing offshore north-winds and strong coastal currents.
This extensive polynya constitutes one of the most northern wintering habitats for eiders (including the threatened Steller’s eider) and long-tailed ducks, along with lesser numbers of pelagic cormorants, glaucous gulls, ivory gulls, Ross’s gulls, thick-billed murres, black guillemots and Kittlitz’s murrelets. Its open waters in a vast sea of ice are believed primarily responsible for the existence of the most northerly northern fulmar colonies in the Pacific. These waters are also important during spring migration for snow geese, emperor geese, brant, eiders and long-tailed ducks, and provide summer feeding grounds for the 1.5 million seabirds of 13 species that nest in colonies along the adjacent coast.
Other notable wildlife: Several hundred Pacific walrus are believed to breed in and around the polynya. Bowhead and gray whales feed there along with pods of beluga whales and seals. Polar bears are attracted to its ice edges in search of seals.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Fuel spills, disturbance from ship noise and possible illegal hunting can be expected with increased vessel traffic along the Northern Shipping Route. Should polynya waters be invaded by commercial fishing fleets, significant impacts can be anticipated on marine food webs.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Staffing and funding are needed for a shore-based research and monitoring station on the adjacent Chukotka coast. Periodic winter boat surveys of polynya birdlife are especially desirable. Shipping should be routed around the polynya, if at all possible.
Habitat and land use
The polynya with its adjacent coastal-cliff formations is characterized by open ocean waters with only occasional drift ice.