The site is an Arctic shoreline, and includes a relatively small proportion of shallow sea offshore. A main road runs along the coast, and two towns, Vadsø and Vardø, lie in the area. Important localities within the IBA are (1) Nesseby (treated as subsite NO003-1 in the previous pan-European IBA inventory of Grimmett and Jones 1989; 70°10'N 28°50'E; 74 ha), (2) Vadsøy and Vadsøysundet (former subsite NO003-2; 70°05'N 29°45'E; 120 ha), (3) Ekkerøy (former subsite NO003-3; 70°05'N 30°10'E; 160 ha), and (4) Skjåholmen (71°20'N 28°45'E; 1,500 ha). Nesseby is a broad tidal bay with shallow water. `Vadsøy and Vadsøysundet' consist of the eastern part of Vadsøy island and the bay (with extensive intertidal flats and shallow subtidal water) between the island and the mainland. Ekkerøy comprises the southern and eastern half of the Store Ekkerøy peninsula, just east of Vadsø, and includes steep 50 m high cliffs. On the north side of the peninsula, the peaty ground slopes less steeply towards the sea and is covered in heathland. There is some sheep-grazing and collecting of gulls' eggs on the peninsula. Skjåholmen is a small island in the innermost part of the Varangerfjord. It is c.3 km long and 500-600 m wide, and is surrounded by sandy beaches and large expanses of shallow water. Skjåholmen is used for hunting, recreation, egg-collection and reindeer-herding.
About 80-90% of the European wintering population of Polysticta stelleri gathers offshore, some on the fjord off Nesseby but mostly further east. Even in summer up to 1,000 birds remain in the area. Somateria spectabilis and Somateria mollissima also winter in important numbers, as does Calidris maritima in the tidal zone. Breeding species include at least 10 of the 32 species in Europe that are restricted to the Arctic/tundra biome (when breeding)an eleventh such species, Aythya marila, may also breed. In spring, the area is an important staging ground for migrating waders, especially Calidris canutus, and there are also good numbers of waders in autumn, e.g. Calidris alpina (max. 10,000 birds). Haliaeetus albicilla (a species of global conservation concern) is resident in the Ekkerøy area (although in numbers too small to meet IBA criteria), and breeding colonies of Rissa tridactyla are also notable on Ekkerøy (c.20,000 pairs) and Ranvika (c.10,000 pairs).
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Varangerfjord. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/01/2023.