• roseate tern endangered nova scotia protected habitat

    Only 73 breeding pairs of roseate terns were counted in Nova Scotia in 2016. (Photo: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons)

For roseate terns, not much will have appeared to change when the endangered seabirds start returning to Canada from their South American wintering grounds about three months from now.

As they’ve long done, some of the three per cent of the world’s population of roseate terns that nest in Canada will settle on Quebec’s Magdalen Islands. Others may find their way to New Brunswick’s Machias Seal Island. The bulk of them, however, will make for a quartet of islands off the coast of Nova Scotia, and when they arrive they’ll swoop onto newly protected land and waters that could help ensure their survival on Canada’s East Coast.

In November, Environment and Climate Change Canada applied a critical-habitat protection order to safeguard the species, of which only 73 breeding pairs were counted in Nova Scotia in 2016. The order immediately protected the land and waters surrounding Country Island and the waters surrounding Sable Island and North Brother and South Brother islands.

Sable Island’s status as a national park and migratory bird sanctuary and the Brother islands status as provincial wildlife sanctuaries meant that roseate terns were already afforded a measure of protection on each. Critically, though, the order extended the protection 200 metres into the water, where the roseate tern fishes for its food.  

Andrew Boyne, head of conservation planning for the Canadian Wildlife Service, told CBC that the order makes it illegal to destroy the habitat, noting that it would be forbidden to do something such as build a wharf or disturb the seabed.

Such human-related development are among the threats facing the roseate tern. According to the federal government’s Species at Risk Public Registry, local threats to the bird also include: predation and displacement of colonies by herring gulls and great black-backed gulls; predation by American mink (in 2003, the registry notes, “a single mink killed almost the entire population of chicks on the Brothers Islands colony.”); loss of habitat due to erosion and increases in large ship traffic.