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Malpeque Bay (PE001)


Malpeque Bay (PE001)

Eastern Prince County, Prince Edward Island

Latitude 46.543°N
Longitude 63.813°W
Altitude 0 - 40m
Area 558.57km²

Site Description

Malpeque Bay is located along the north (Gulf of St. Lawrence) shore of west-central P.E.I. It is comprised of a large shallow bay (average depth 4 m, maximum 13 m) that is enclosed by a 25 km long coastal sandspit and dune system on the seaward side. Tidal marshes and inlets are located along the landward side of the bay. The coastline within the bay is characterized by a zone of intertidal mud that varies in width up to a maximum of 1 km. Within the bay, there are nine islands, five of which are forested with the other four being characterized by grasses and shrubs. The adjacent lands are used primarily for agricultural purposes (especially potatoes and oats) with a small area of urban/industrial use along the southwest side.


At least three Piping Plover beaches occur along the Malpeque Bay sandspit and barrier-dune chain: Conway Sandhills, Hog Island, and Darnley Point. In 1991, 22 Piping Plovers were recorded on these beaches (4.3% of the estimated Atlantic Canada population). In subsequent years numbers have been lower, with only 8 Piping Plovers being recorded in 1996 (1.9% of the estimated Atlantic Canada population). Piping Plovers are identified as a globally vulnerable, and nationally endangered species.

In addition to threatened species, large numbers of waterbirds utilize Malpeque Bay. Two colonies of Double-crested Cormorants occur within the bay: one on Little Courtin Island, and the other on Ram Island. The Ram Island colony is one of the largest in North America. Interchange occurs between the two islands with the entire population being present on Little Courtin Island in 1996, and relatively equal numbers being present on both islands in 1997 and 1998. Over the last 15 years, however, there have consistently been larger populations nesting on Ram Island than on Little Courtin Island. The combined long-term average (1986-98) for the two Double-crested Cormorant colonies is 4,044 nests. In recent years, numbers have increased slightly with a 1994-98 average of 4,645 nests. This population estimate represents about 2% of the estimated Canadian population, and over 1% of the estimated North American population.

Large numbers of Canada Geese from the Newfoundland and Labrador population also make use of Malpeque Bay during both the spring and fall migration. Over the past six years (1992-97) one-day counts completed in mid-November have recorded an average of 3,328 geese (as much as 3% of the estimated Newfoundland and Labrador population). The actual percentage of the population using the site, however, is likely much larger since the turnover of migrants also needs to be considered. Some estimates of the peak numbers of Canada Geese have ranged as high as 14,000 in the spring and 20,000 in the fall (about 15 to 20% of the estimated population. Other waterfowl species that congregate in the bay include: Red-breasted Merganser, Greater Scaup, American Black Duck, and Green-winged Teal. Additionally, numerous shorebirds use the area in fall migration. In particular, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Whimbrel and Red Knot are occasionally found in large numbers.

Conservation Issues

Even though Malpeque Bay is recognized as a significant site both locally and internationally (designated as a Ramsar site in 1988) it is still subjected to numerous threats. General prejudice against cormorants has led to sporadic raids on the colonies, and may have led to the shift that occurred in 1996. Recreational use of the sandy shores is an actual or potential threat to nesting and brood-rearing Piping Plovers, and agricultural and hunting practices have the potential to affect the staging geese.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Piping Plover
Number Year Season
4 - 52000Summer
Number Year Season