||May/June 2007 issue||
|IMAGE: USGS NATIONAL CENTER FOR EROS, NASA LANDSAT PROJECT SCIENCE OFFICE
Remote, rugged and uninhabited, Akpatok Island
draws throngs of northern wildlife
By Andréa Ventimiglia
Shadows accentuate the sheerness of the limestone walls
that rise from the frigid waters along the north and west
coasts of Nunavut's Akpatok Island. Encased in
snow and encircled with sea ice in this false-colour satellite
image, the treeless island located at the mouth of Ungava Bay
is known for its hordes of breeding birds.
|MAP: STEVEN FICK/CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC
"Akpatok" is derived from akpa, Inuktitut for the thick-billed
murre, a type of auk that flocks by the thousands to the bare
cliffs in the northern and southern reaches of the island between
June and September. Towering more than 250 metres in places,
the cliff ledges provide the favoured setting for the female murre
to incubate her single pear-shaped egg.
The unforgiving landscape has fostered the largest thick-billed
murre colony in Canada — at times numbering about two million
— and one of the largest in the world. And the birds serve a
vital ecological role. Polar bears feed on murre fledglings, while
protein-rich bird droppings provide nutrients for the low-lying
island vegetation. Inuit also travel to the shores to hunt.
Recent research suggests climate change is already altering the
murres' diet on other Arctic islands, a phenomenon that is likely
also occurring on Akpatok. While polar cod was once a staple of
the nesting birds' diet, murres now seem to be eating other fish
or invertebrates. Scientists believe such diet shifts could have
ecological repercussions on this island sanctuary.
How do you get through the waning weeks of winter?