The Île aux Fraises IBA is located approximately 12 km north of St-André, in the St Lawrence estuary, Québec. Rivière-du-Loup lies just slightly further away to the northeast. Île aux Fraises is composed of two small narrow islands, the larger of which is approximately 780 m long, while the smaller one is 570 m long. Both islands have a maximum width of 100 m. The islands are composed of shale, as they are an extension of the Appalachian Mountain System. They are covered with vegetation, mainly grass (Elymus arenarius) as well as some shrubs (Ribes hirtellum, Rosa sp. Rubus idaeus). A small grove of trees (White Spruce, Balsam Fir and Trembling Aspen) is found near the centre of the larger island. The mean annual temperature at this site is 3.3°C and the mean tidal amplitude is 3.5 m.
Île aux Fraises supports continentally significant concentrations of breeding eiders. Between 1990 and 1999, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) recorded an average of 2,100 pairs of nesting Common Eiders, representing approximately 2% of the estimated Atlantic (ssp. dresseri) population. Between 1966 and 1989, eleven other surveys were completed by CWS and others; numbers of nesting eiders ranged from 2,051 to 3,304 in this time period. The colony shrunk to only 22 nests in 2000 due to the presence of Red Fox. It is likely that the colony will recover.
Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls nest on these islands in large numbers. In 1967 only 185 nests of Great Black-backed Gulls were present, but they have increased in numbers, with a high of 475 pairs recorded in 1990. This is 1% of the estimated North American population of the species. Conversely, the Herring Gull population on the islands has decreased. In 1967, as many as 2,200 Herring Gull nests were counted, but numbers declined to a low of 67 pairs in 1999, when the last count was made.
The presence of Red Foxes can seriously effect the number of nesting eiders. Foxes in the St. Lawrence River estuary either swim to islands with colonies of birds or make their way there on drifting ice. Currently (2001), the Société Duvetnor, who collect eider down, is trying to remove this species from the island. Generally the eiders will not even attempt to nest on an island when a fox is present, but since the female eiders are strongly philopatric, the eider colony is expected to recover once the fox(es) are either removed or leave the island of their own accord.
The nesting birds at this site can be disturbed in the spring when small boat traffic concentrates around the islands of the estuary. This leads to disturbance of ground-nesting birds.
The St. Lawrence is one of the most heavily traversed seaways in North America. As a result, oil spills are a ongoing threat to the marine wildlife on Île aux Fraises.
This site has been designated a National Wildlife Area (NWA). The main purpose of NWAs is to conserve essential habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife species, especially endangered species. Management plans that are prepared for each NWA specify which activities are allowed.
The landscape of the are is made out of Spartina marsh, eelgrass beds, rocky shores and gravel or pebbles beaches. Some rivers are hosting rainbow smelt spawning runs (the south shore population of the St. Lawrence middle estuary). At the beginning of the summer, it is possbile to observe capelin rolling on the beaches during spawning. The downstream migration of American eel toward their breeding sites in the Atlantic, which takes place in the fall, allows the capture of migraing adults using fishing weirs. Two other species commercially exploited are also roaming in the open waters of the estuary: the Atlantic sturgeon and Atlantic herring.
Loss of fish habitat remains a major problem in the region. The dikes, for example, reduce the number of spawning habitats, while agricultural along the coast, the residential development and the presence of resorts together with coastal erosion are resulting in the destruction of several riparian ecosystems.
Major species present:
Rainbow smelt (population of south shore of the St. Lawrence middle estuary)
Rocky islands are composed of schist and quartzite. Despite the unfavorable conditions for settlement, some plant species are able to grow there. On the windward side, we find mainly mosses and low-lying plants such as juniper and cranberries. Areas more sheltered allow spruce to built small woodlands. In the portion swept by the tides, algae colonize the bedrock.
The geographical barrier created by the St. Lawrence River provides the IBA a kind of natural protection, a protection often enhanced by legal protection. However, water pollution and the risks of oil spills remain a source of concern for the protection of the flora and fauna of this area.
Major species present :