Cape Vera is located in the high arctic on the northwestern arm of Devon Island. The site consists of a prominent 245 metre high coastal cliff at the eastern end of Colin Archer Peninsula (facing Jones Sound). The cliff has numerous grassy to bare-rock cliff ledges along a face that extends for about 8km to the north. An expansive talus beach slopes from the base of these cliffs to the sea. St. Helena Island is located about 8km northeast of Cape Vera. It is a small flat-topped island that consists of low rocky shelf with an east-facing cliff near its centre. During most years, a polynya forms in the Cardigan Strait (between North Kent Island and Cape Vera). The polynya, which is used by wintering Walruses, Ringed Seals, Bearded Seals, and Polar Bears, provides a dependable source of open water for seabirds during the early part of the breeding season.
Several archeological sites are located near the base of Cape Vera and on St. Helena Island. Of particular interest are a group of nest shelters that were built on St. Helena Island by an unknown group of early inhabitants, possibly Vikings or Thule Inuit. These nest shelters consist of a collection of stones that have been placed in such a way as to encourage eiders to nest in a location where they can be trapped later.
The cliffs of Cape Vera are an important breeding site for the cliff-nesting Northern Fulmar. In the early 1970's, about 25,000 pairs of this seabird species were recorded along this eight kilometer long stretch of coastline (about 2.4% of the North American population). A thorough survey of the colony has not been completed since the initial visit in 1972-73. However, during surveys of Common Eiders in the Cardigan Strait area, an estimate of 7,500 pairs of Northern Fulmars was recorded at Cape Vera for an unknown part of the colony and others that have been to the area think that the number is probably less than 10,000 pairs. The isolated nature of the colony's location makes regular surveys logistically difficult. When the fulmars arrive at Cape Vera in mid April they often spend time at the polynya feeding. They remain at the site until early October.
Several species of seabird breed nearby on St. Helena Island. In the early 1980s there were as many as 300 pairs of nesting Common Eiders (ssp. borealis) along with smaller numbers of nesting Glaucous Gulls, Thayers Gulls, Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots. The eider colony is among the largest in the high arctic, despite being relatively small compared to those in the low arctic.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
As a result of its isolated location in the high arctic, there are few threats facing the breeding birds at this site. As with any seabird colony, repeated human disturbance, an unlikely circumstance, would affect breeding success. This area was designated an International Biological Programme Site in the early 1970s (Region 9, #2-11). While this designation does not give any protection to the area, it does emphasize its importance. The site has also been identified as a Key Migratory Bird Terrestrial Habitat site by the Canadian Wildlife Service.