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Concerns about Marine Birds and the Passage of LNG Tankers

and other Large Vessels into Passamaquoddy Bay

Arthur MacKay
5474 rte 127, Bocabec, NB, Canada E0G 2X0
Originally submitted to US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission April 17, 2006
Modified November 3, 2010
1. Introduction:

Important Bird Areas of Canada (IBA, http://www.ibacanada.com/) is part of an international

conservation initiative co-ordinated by BirdLife International. Canadian Co-partners are Bird Studies
Canada and Nature Canada.

IBA identifies the Quoddy Region in general and Head Harbour Passage in particular as an area of
Global significance for Marine Birds. The following is an edited version of their status analysis for the
Quoddy Area IBA (Figure 1). The information provided clearly specifies the nature of the habitat, its
uniqueness to marine birds, and the important species and numbers of marine birds known to use the
area. Some birds, such as cormorants, eagles, herons, eiders, and other ducks are not included in the
listing, although these and other species occur commonly in the designated area.

Figure 1. Google satellite image showing the location of the IBA in relation to physical features and
proposed LNG developments in Passamaquoddy Bay.
2. IBA Designation for the Quoddy Region:

IBA Quoddy Region

Site Summary Wilson's Beach/Plage Wilson, New Brunswick

Latitude 45.07° N Elevation 0m

Longitude 66.9° W Size 45.0 km²
Land Use: Potential or ongoing Threats:
open sea, inlets/coastal features
Fisheries/aquaculture Disturbance, Fisheries, Oil slicks
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Colonial Waterbirds/Seabird
Concentrations, Shorebird Concentrations

Site Description

The Quoddy region IBA is a body of seawater, primarily in Canadian waters, found in
southern coastal New Brunswick. The IBA encompasses all the waters in an area roughly
bounded by: Eastport, Maine, the west side of Campobello Island to East Quoddy Head,
White Horse Island, and the east side of Deer Island to Deer Island Point. This includes an
area called Head Harbour Passage. Upwellings and areas of high productivity occur here
because of strong currents created by the narrow passages that lead through to
Passamaquoddy Bay.


Large feeding congregations of several species of waterbirds are found in the Quoddy
region in the fall and winter. During fall migration, globally significant numbers of
Bonapartes Gulls pass through the region. The migration of the species is drawn out, with
non-breeding birds arriving in the Quoddy region as early as June and a few adults
lingering as late as January. Birds arrive in a succession of waves, and remain in the area
for several weeks, during which time they substantially increase their body weight. A boat
survey in December 1998 found 6,030 gulls near Head Harbour Passage, while in the late
summer of the same year, a minimum of 3,500 Bonapartes Gulls were observed and an
estimated 5,300 were thought to be present. These numbers are between 1 and 2% of the
global population. Additionally, estimates from the early 1980s indicate that this species
may peak at 10,000 birds in the late summer, while an even higher recent estimate of over
25,000 Bonapartes Gulls comes from November 1997.

December also brings impressive numbers of other larids. Christmas Bird Counts based
out of Eastport recorded an average of 5,175 Herring Gulls and 1,393 Great Black-
backed Gulls over the 1995-1999 period. The vast majority of these birds were within the
IBA. The Herring Gull average includes 14,531 birds that were seen in 1996; this was an
unusual year, when an exceptionally high peak of 65,637 Black-legged Kittiwakes were
also seen. Typical early winter numbers of kittiwakes are usually in the hundreds or low
thousands. The averages above represent 1 or 2% of the North American Herring Gull
population and 1% of the North American Great Black-backed Gull population. Oldsquaw
and Common Eider are other common wintering birds, while scoters are present in

Until recently, immense numbers of Red-necked Phalaropes congregated in the Quoddy

region. Typical numbers seemed to have ranged from the hundreds of thousands to a
million, but two million were also reported. A primary food source of the phalaropes was
euphausiid shrimp, which will swarm at the surface of the water. Its not known if the
reason that large numbers of phalaropes have not been seen since the early 1980s is due
to a change in this food source or for some other reason.

Northern Gannet had not been recorded breeding on the coasts of New Brunswick or Nova
Scotia since the mid 19th century, but in 1999 for the first time since then, an adult bird
was found brooding a chick on White Horse Island.

Complete Bird records for Quoddy Region

Species Season Number Unit Date Reference
American Black Duck (Atlantic WI 1,009 I 1998 98-99 CBC
Black-headed Gull WI 22 G I 1995 95-96 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 1,868 I 1993 93-94 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 2,935 I 1994 94-95 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 521 I 1995 95-96 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 65,637 C I 1996 96-97 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 13 I 1997 97-98 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 745 I 1998 98-99 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 764 I 1999 99-00 CBC
Black-legged Kittiwake (W. WI 3,202 I 1998
Bonaparte's Gull FM 10,000 G I 1985* Braune 1989
Bonaparte's Gull FM 3,500 I 1998 MacIntosh 1999
Bonaparte's Gull WI 25,000 G I 1997
Bonaparte's Gull WI 670 I 1999 99-00 CBC
Bonaparte's Gull FM 5,300 G I 1998 MacIntosh 1999
Bonaparte's Gull WI 6,030 G I 1998 Huettmann et al.
Glaucous Gull WI 1 I 1998 98-99 CBC
Great Black-backed Gull WI 2,117 G I 1993 93-94 CBC
Great Black-backed Gull WI 767 I 1994 94-95 CBC
Great Black-backed Gull WI 440 I 1995 95-96 CBC
Great Black-backed Gull WI 2,932 G I 1996 96-97 CBC
Great Black-backed Gull WI 1,844 G I 1997 97-98 CBC
Great Black-backed Gull WI 954 G I 1998 98-99 CBC
Great Black-backed Gull WI 796 I 1999 99-00 CBC
Herring Gull WI 1,638 I 1995 95-96 CBC
Herring Gull WI 14,531 G I 1996 96-97 CBC
Herring Gull WI 4,083 G I 1997 97-98 CBC
Herring Gull WI 2,044 I 1998 98-99 CBC
Herring Gull WI 3,579 G I 1999 99-00 CBC
Herring Gull WI 11,115 G I 1993 93-94 CBC
Herring Gull WI 3,056 G I 1994 94-95 CBC
Iceland Gull WI 12 I 1999 99-00 CBC
Lesser Black-backed Gull WI 1 I 1996 96-97 CBC
Little Gull WI 1 I 1994 94-95 CBC
Northern Gannet BR 1 P 1999
Purple Sandpiper WI 120 G I 1992 92-93 CBC
Red-necked Phalarope FM 100,000 G I 1982 Foster 1983
Red-necked Phalarope FM 100,000 G I 1971 Morrison et al. 1995
Red-necked Phalarope FM 2,000,000 G I 1977 Morrison et al. 1995
Red-necked Phalarope FM 15,000 C I 1978 Morrison et al. 1995
Red-necked Phalarope FM 770,000 G I 1981 Morrison et al. 1995
Red-necked Phalarope FM 35,000 G I 1981 Morrison et al. 1995
Red-necked Phalarope FM 1,000,000 G I 1980 Vickery 1981
Red-necked Phalarope FM 300,000 G I 1983 Foster 1984
Ring-billed Gull WI 82 I 1999 99-00 CBC

Note: species shown in bold indicate that their population level (as estimated by the maximum
number) exceeds at least one of the IBA threshold (national, continental or global). The date is only
an approximation.

3. Resurgence of Phalaropes and other species.

The reference to the disappearance of phalaropes from the area reflects shifts that occurred with
several species including herring, mackerel, groundfish, whales, etc. The reasons for this are not
clearly understood. However, several observers have suggested a shift back to the pre1980 period is
underway with the return of certain fish schools and phalaropes. Norm Famous reported the following:

From: nfamous@maine.edu
To: maine-birds@mainebirding.net
Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2005 13:21:54 -0000
Subject: [MAINE-BIRDS] 800-1,000 red-necked phalaropes off Eastport and Campobello Island

In my earlier report of birds observed off Campobello Island last Thursday 9-22-05, I neglected to list
a flock of 800-1,000 red-necked phalaropes off of Cherry Island. This is very significant in that red-
necked phalaropes abandoned the Eastport-Campobello Island-Deer Island area in the mid 1980s.
The collapse of the phalaropes in this area was due to a crash in Calanus finmarchicus (copepod)
populations. Sampling this summer by the Canadian Wildlife Service has documented an increase in
Calanus finmarchicus and a number of small phalarope flocks. A friend who works in Eastport has
also observed several flocks this summer. Copepod numbers first crashed on the Scotian shelf (source
area of the Eastport-Campobello Calanus finmarchicus population). They have been increasing in
recent years. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the return of the massive flocks of the 2000th century
(numbering over one million birds).

Norm Famous

Additional information on the return of phalaropes can be obtained at:


Some species such as the American eagle (Figure 2) and cormorants are doing remarkably well
and are common along the entire length of Head Harbour Passage and into Friars Roads and
Western Passage.

Figure 2. American Eagle photographed on Campobello Island along the Head Harbour Passage
Shore. (Copyright Old Sow Publishing).
4. Other Important Designations and References.

Parks Canada has also identified the West Isles Area, including Head Harbour Passage, as an
“Area of National significance” because of high productivity and the unique ecosystem. Part of
this designation is due to the abundance of marine birds. There are numerous other references
that identify the current and historical status of marine birds in the Head Harbour Passage area.
Three that are of particular importance are:

1. Gaskin, D.E., G.J.D. Smith, B.M. Braune, W.G. Halina, B. Vari. Status of Resident and
Transient Sea Birds in Head Harbour Passage and Vicinity, New Brunswick,
Canada. Department of Zoology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ont., Canada. Report to
United States Fish and Wildlife Service, September, 1979.

2. Buzeta, M-I, R. Singh, and S. Young-Lai. Identification of Significant Marine and

Coastal Areas in the Bay of Fundy. Canadian Manuscript Report of Fisheries and
Aquatic Science 2635, 2003.

3. MacKay, A.A. LNG in Passamaquoddy Bay. An online slide show located at:
http://www.bayoffundy.ca/LNG/slideshow/. 2005.

5. Ecosystem Recovery

In the 1980s, A significant ecological shift occurred in the Quoddy Region. Hundreds of
thousands to millions of phalaropes disappeared from the Head Harbour Passage area. At the
same time, nearshore fisheries dropped significantly, particularly in the St. Croix Estuary and
Western Passamaquoddy Bay. Stressors included:

1. industrial pollution from the Georgia Pacific Mill in Woodland and other industries,

2. increasing domestic pollution from municipalities and the growing numbers of coastal

3. the development of the aquaculture industry in West Isles and Passamaquoddy Bay and
the rise in nutrient loading throughout the area.

During the 1960s and 1970s black liquor from GP was dumped directly into the St. Croix River
resulting in the elimination of commercial fisheries in the Estuary and Western Passamaquoddy
Bay. With the advent of aquaculture, nutrient loading from large salmon sites resulted in surface
pollution that may have caused the disappearance of phalaropes and other species that are
affected by the presence of herring oils. Clearly, aquaculture also impacted the weir fishery, if
only by displacement.

Whatever the reasons, the Passamaquoddy Bay area and Head Harbour Passage have been
impacted by an event or perhaps cumulative events, that caused the decline of certain fish and
bird species and, possibly, a crash of the vital Calanus finmarchicus population. In spite of these
challenges, the Head Harbour Passage area has continued to support all of the species that it has
in the past with a few notable absences. Today, it seems likely that reduction in pollution from
the St. Croix and the shrinking of the aquaculture industry may be having positive impacts that
will see absent fish and bird species return in their previous numbers. Work being carried out by
the St. Croix Estuary Project Inc. in the St. Croix Estuary shows that body of water is slowly
returning to its former state with colonizing invertebrates reaching the upper estuary at St.

All of this said, it is important to note that Head Harbour Passage has remained important to
marine bird species in spite of the various challenges over the last two decades.

6. Challenges from Heavy Industry:

The productivity that supports the abundance of marine birds found in the Head Harbour Passage
area also provides for an annual income that approaches a billion dollars on the Canadian side of
the Quoddy area. This is truly an “eco-economy” that supports businesses that draw on the
natural assets of the area. Part of this ecological background is the abundance of marine birds
that, together with whales and seals, draw visitors from around the world.

The proposed LNG developments in Passamaquoddy Bay represent a clear move to an industrial
port economy. If this occurs we anticipate the growth of associated industries such as co-
generation plants, smelters, and related high energy users. The proposed numbers of LNG
tankers, together with coastal freighters that currently dock at Estes Head and Bayside represent
a substantial increase in ship traffic, noise, water and air pollution. Other new industries will
increase this activity further. Clearly the process of industrializing the Quoddy Region will have

The threats to marine birds are clear and well understood. Simply put, increased boat traffic
increases the risk of spills and major disturbance. As traffic rises, we can anticipate more and
more measureable impacts that will negatively affect populations that depend on this area.

The birds of Head Harbour Passage are of Global Significance; a resource that is considered so
important that it belongs to the world at large, not just the residents of the Quoddy Region, not
just Americans or Canadian, not industry, but the world.

The uniqueness of the marine bird populations that utilize Head Harbour Passage mitigates
against the further industrialization of the Quoddy Region and the development of LNG
terminals in Passamaquoddy Bay.

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