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Peace-Athabasca Delta (AB002)

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Peace-Athabasca Delta (AB002)

Fort Chipewyan, Alberta

Latitude 58.653°N
Longitude 111.813°W
Altitude 250m
Area 7,584.60km²

Site Description

Located in the northeast corner of Alberta, the sprawling Peace-Athabasca Delta is one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world. It covers much of the southeastern portion of Wood Buffalo National Park, and includes the deltas of the Athabasca, Peace, and Birch rivers. Four major lakes are present; all are very shallow (less than 3 m deep) and characterized by thick growths of submergent and emergent vegetation. Large open grasslands are interspersed with numerous river channels and ponds that are slightly elevated above the surrounding plain. These features have created thousands of kilometers of shoreline habitat that is ideal for nesting waterfowl

This area contains critical spawning and nursery habitat for fish coming from Lake Claire and Lake Athabasca. Over 20 fish species are known to occur in the area including Lake Trout, Lake Whitefish, Arctic Grayling, Northern Pike and the nationally threatened Shortjaw Cisco.

Birds

The wetlands and grasslands of the Peace-Athabasca Delta provide vital resting and feeding area for ducks and geese, migrating to and from their breeding grounds on the Mackenzie River lowlands, Arctic river deltas, and western Arctic islands. The site is located far enough north that it supports waterfowl from all four major continental flyways. In this respect, it is a globally significant area for waterfowl.

Over 400,000 waterfowl have been recorded during spring migration, and during fall migration estimates have exceeded 1 million. In the late 1950s and early 1960s estimates were as high as 320,000 pairs of breeding ducks. More recently, breeding estimates have been lower, with about 120,000 pairs of dabbling ducks (Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail) and about 40,000 pairs of diving ducks (Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup) being recorded.

Some of the breeding waterfowl species found in abundance on the delta include Canada Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler and Canvasback. In all, 215 bird species have been recorded, including the globally endangered Whooping Crane, the nationally vulnerable Tundra Peregrine Falcon (ssp. tundrius), Bald Eagle, and Osprey. A colony of Black Terns is found on Richardson Lake, and other waterbirds recorded here include Western Grebe, Eared Grebe, Ring-billed Gull, and Common Tern.

Conservation Issues

About 80% of the Peace-Athabasca Delta is within Wood Buffalo National Park; the remainder is provincial crown land. It has been recognized as a wetland of global significance under the Ramsar Convention and the entire national park has been identified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Peace-Athabasca Delta Ecosystem Management Plan (implemented in 1993) is undergoing a cooperative study between Parks Canada, the Alberta government and local native organizations.

Although the delta's size, isolation, and wilderness character have provided protection for many of its ecological features, it is being affected by external factors. The construction of two hydro-electric dams in British Columbia (about 800 km upstream on the Peace River) have disrupted the delta's hydrology by creating relatively stable water levels. The lack of rising and receding flood waters have severely damaged the delta ecosystem and greatly reduced its productivity. The delta is also being affected by industrial pollutants from pulp mills in the B.C. and Alberta portions of the Peace-Athabasca watershed.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Tundra Swan
Number Year Season
1,9262016Spring
2,4002015Fall
2,000 - 3,0002015Spring
Whooping Crane
Number Year Season
22001Fall
??Other
Waterbirds
Number Year Season
1,000,0001985Fall
320,0001985Other
400,0001985Spring
Rusty Blackbird
Number Year Season
232014Fall