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6. Broad Strategies and Approaches to Recovery

6.1 Actions Already Completed or Currently Underway

An early step towards protecting this species was the establishment of the Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, which at that time protected the only known breeding site for this marine bird. Most of our knowledge on Ivory Gull breeding biology in Canada comes from work at this colony in the 1970s.

More recently, local ecological knowledge interviews were undertaken to determine the geographical extent of declines, and the degree to which northern residents had recognized this. Aerial surveys were undertaken in 2002 – 2006 and 2009, to revisit all known Ivory Gull colonies in Canada (except for one far to the north on eastern Ellesmere Island; Figure 3). These surveys were the first comprehensive efforts to assess the national population status of this species in a single year, and these showed the marked declines in the number of colonies and the number of birds at known colonies (Gilchrist and Mallory 2005). These surveys also discovered many new colonies, and allowed the development of an initial population viability analysis (Robertson et al. 2007). In 2005-2007, a collaborative effort was underway with Diamondex Resources Ltd., whereby this exploration company reported observations of gull colonies on the Brodeur Peninsula, and instituted a buffer zone around those sites so that their surveys did not intrude in nesting habitat. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (now Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada), which issues licenses for exploration, has also been made aware of possible nesting locations, and provide an information package to all prospecting license applicants.

The key elements of the strategy to recover Ivory Gulls in Canada are outlined in Table 2.  

6.2 Strategic Direction for Recovery

Table 2. Recovery Planning Table. Priorities are defined as: High – top priority action; Medium – needed to evaluate and guide conservation actions; Low – action would be helpful to the understanding of the species but not a priority.

Threat or LimitationPriorityBroad StrategyGeneral Description of Research and Management Approaches
Industrial activities; human disturbance – monitoring; oil pollutionHighInventory and monitoring
  • Comprehensive surveys of known and potential breeding areas, the latter determined from habitat suitability study
  • Develop approaches to conducting a winter population inventory
Contaminants; human disturbance – monitoring; oil pollutionHighResearch
  • Conduct satellite tracking study to determine movements and habitat use, for identifying critical habitat away from breeding sites
  • Conduct research into the impact that human disturbance and contaminants have on the reproductive ecology of Ivory Gulls
  • Genetic analyses to determine possible distinctiveness of regional populations (e.g., nunatak vs. flat-ground nesters) or international populations
Illegal shootingHighHabitat Protection; Population Management and Enforcement
  • Work with international partners to reduce illegal harvest of Ivory Gulls.
  • Continue to work with Greenland government for local enforcement of rules preventing harvest of Canadian birds migrating along west Greenland coast
  • Develop a joint Canada-Greenland monitoring and management strategy
  • Continue outreach work in Newfoundland, Labrador and Nunavut to reduce incidental aboriginal or other harvest of Ivory Gulls
Predation on nests; Industrial activities; contaminantsMediumHabitat Protection; Population Management and Enforcement
  • Develop and enforce protocols for activities near Ivory Gull colonies, migration corridors and wintering locations
  • Identify sites suitable for protection and initiate stewardship or securement plan
Communications and Outreach
  • Develop and implement communication and outreach programs, specific to local/regional circumstances and opportunities
  • Conduct local knowledge study in Grise Fiord on Ivory Gulls

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6.3 Narrative to Support Recovery Planning Table

Efforts to recover the Ivory Gull population in Canada will be feasible, but difficult to implement, in large part because of the extreme remoteness, as well as the challenging logistics and weather that are involved with working near the breeding or wintering range of this species. Additionally, many of the threats affecting Ivory Gulls are international (or are long-term environmental issues that will be slow to change (e.g., climate change)). For example, most of the illegal harvest of adult Ivory Gulls has occurred in Greenland (COSEWIC 2006), despite the fact that there were laws in place to protect the birds since 1977 for West Greenland (where Canadian birds migrate through), and for all of Greenland in 1988 (COSEWIC 2006). Hunting is an important, traditional and commercial activity in Greenland, and this country is not bound by the laws governing North American harvest of birds, so continued scientific collaboration and community outreach are needed.

Inventory and Monitoring

Inventory and monitoring are required to update the status of known colonies and to discover new ones which are prerequisites to the assessment of threats to Ivory Gulls posed by existing and proposed industrial activities. Known Ivory Gulls colonies have declined in size or been extirpated (Robertson et al. 2007), but new colonies were found in 2006 on eastern Ellesmere Island, while regions farther north have not yet been searched. A comprehensive survey through the area determined from a habitat suitability study is required to obtain an overall count on the number of Ivory Gulls in Canada. This should be done in a single year to account for the possibility that gulls could be switching sites among years. Also, the apparent intermittent occupation of some colonies requires that known colonies be resurveyed regularly (e.g., once every 3 years) to track the known breeding population. Seymour Island is the most cost-effective and largest colony to follow, so annual monitoring is recommended for this location. Additional information from the wintering area is recommended, such as a repeat of the winter aerial surveys conducted by Orr and Parsons (1982).


Information on the breeding ecology of Ivory Gulls is scant everywhere in the circumpolar Arctic (Mallory et al. 2008), and that which exists is outdated.  An investigation of the reproductive ecology of Ivory Gulls would provide information necessary for understanding possible contaminant effects for developing population models, refining critical habitat identification, and developing setback distances for activities near colonies. Key elements to be identified are: (1) proportion of the adult population that breeds each year; (2) nesting success; (3) fledging success; and (4) recruitment to breeding populations.

As well, tracking birds throughout their annual cycle will provide novel and critical information on sites that these birds require for these life stages away from their colonies. Knowledge of where and when birds move, and how long they stay in different locations provides essential information for identifying other important (e.g. marine protected area) or critical habitat.

Habitat Protection, Population Management, and Enforcement

A number of best management practices for activities occurring near concentrations of birds in Arctic Canada have been developed by Environment Canada, but these have not been refined for Ivory Gulls. Nonetheless, they are an appropriate starting point for implementing important activities near known colonies, particularly in areas with active human disturbance like the Brodeur Peninsula, Baffin Island. Appropriate enforcement of such activities is needed, such as intermittent inspections of mining or prospecting camp activities near known colonies (e.g., getting flight paths).

Stewardship and possibly securement in the form of new protected areas (e.g., national wildlife areas) may be the best option for certain areas, such as the cluster of colonies along the east coast of Ellesmere Island.

Communication and Outreach

The plight of the Ivory Gull has been well-communicated in Arctic Canada through literature, consultations, local knowledge studies, posters, and pamphlets.  This effort will need to be increased once plans are in place to implement recovery actions.  A good basis exists for cooperation, including with industry, but regular, tailored communication will need to continue. Outreach activities are needed in Newfoundland and Labrador in order to raise awareness amongst local people about the conservation status of Ivory Gulls and in order to encourage local people to report Ivory Gull sightings in their area.

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