Île Rouge is located almost in the middle of the St. Lawrence lower estuary, near the mouth of the Saguenay River. It is most easily accessible by boat from Baie-Sainte-Catherine village, which lies 13 kilometres to the northwest on the north shore. The study area includes both terrestrial and shoreline habitats, down to the tides' lowest limits. The shoreline consists of rounded pebbles, scarce vegetation and a sand bar that is exposed off its eastern tip at low tide. A lighthouse and cottage are also located on the island.
Île Rouge is the main resting area for shorebirds migrating and feeding in the region from La Malbaie to Pointe-des-Monts on the north shore, and from La Pocatière to Matane on the south shore; this represents a substantial part of the St. Lawrence estuary. During surveys in 1981, it held 32% of all the shorebirds observed at the main concentration sites of the mid- and marine St. Lawrence estuary. The density of individuals was calculated to be approximately 2,680 birds per hectare. The highest one-day tally of all shorebirds was 13,401 individuals. Black-bellied Plovers outnumbered all others, with 10,000 being present at one time, possibly representing 7% of the North American population. This island is considered by some to be eastern North America's most important stopover site for this species.
Other shorebirds present in large numbers are Purple Sandpiper, with 300 birds recorded in the winter of 1999 (3% of the North American population) and Ruddy Turnstone, with 890 birds recorded in 1981. Up to 2,500 Semipalmated Sandpipers have been seen here. Many gulls use this site for resting, for example in September 1996, 5,000 Black-legged Kittiwakes, 1,000 Herring Gulls and 700 Great Black-backed Gulls were seen. During the 1995 breeding season, Herring Gull (550 pairs), Ring-billed Gull (1,900), and Common Eider (336 pairs 1992-5 avg.) could all be found nesting in colonies on the island. In winter, there are flocks of up to 1,100 American Black Ducks and 8,621 Oldsquaw in the waters around the island.
The shore of Île Rouge, up to the maximum limit of high tide, is enclosed in the provincial-federal Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. The lighthouse and associated structures are owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Eventually, the study area will be included in Priority Intervention Zone #18, as part of the federal-provincial St. Lawrence Vision 2000 Action Plan. Also, due to the high concentrations of shorebirds, the island is considered to be of regional importance in the potential Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
Potential threats to the site are the excessive disturbance of birds by people visiting the island and oil spills from the nearby shipping lanes.
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 :