A powerful new approach to nature conservation in Canada
Conservation Communications Intern, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
Canada is a big place. There are tens of thousands of lakes in this country, including some of the largest in the world. It is home to forests with a combined area larger than India and has the world’s longest coastline at more than 200,000 kilometres, including along the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. This much space means Canada is blessed with a huge abundance and richness of nature and human cultures.
Canada’s landscapes can be divided into ecozones that are shaped by climatic and landform differences that lead to often quite different characteristics. It is no wonder, then, that Canada is home to more than 80,000 species of plants and animals. The country’s varied landscapes are also the homelands of Indigenous Peoples, with many different languages, traditions, and a deep history of interacting with nature that has helped shape the landscapes and ecosystems we see today.
The sheer size of Canada alone makes it very important to the planet’s biodiversity and climate regulation. For example, boreal forests and peatlands in Canada are among the world’s largest intact (roadless) ecosystems and are one of the world’s most important carbon storage areas.
But while conserving Canadian nature is important to the entire world, it is very challenging to decide where action is most needed within the 10 million square kilometres of Canada’s lands and inland waters. A global partnership of scientists, governments, and conservation organizations has come up with a global standard for identifying the most critical places for the retention and safeguarding of nature.
The Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) standard helps us zero in on places that are of high importance to maintaining biodiversity and often at risk of disappearing. KBAs can vary in size from small patches of undeveloped land in some of our largest urban areas, which may represent the best remaining habitats for highly endangered species, including lichens or insects, to huge expanses of northern land that are vital for enormous bird aggregations and for species such as caribou and polar bears. They are a way of steering conservation attention to areas where impact will be greatest thanks to a scientifically rigorous assessment process.
The KBA Canada Coalition, a collaboration involving many organizations and sectors, is proud to have developed one of the world’s first comprehensive national programs to identify KBAs. Canada is the first country in the world to adapt the global KBA standard to a national level to identify sites of both global and national significance, leading the way for many other countries.
Here is just a glimpse of some of the 73 approved KBAs in Canada so far (with more than 900 other sites still being assessed), and some interesting facts about them:
10 Key Biodiversity Areas in Canada
Long Point Peninsula & Marshes
Long Point is the longest freshwater sandspit in the world.
Thirteen species of bird have globally significant aggregations here, and it is home to numerous Canadian species at risk, including Fowler’s Toad and Cucumber Tree.
This unique habitat is at the junction of the wet, warm interior ecosystems of BC and the dry sub-maritime Coastal Western Hemlock zone.
This confluence has resulted in unique biodiversity characteristics at the site, which supports the entire population of Sharp-tail Snake, an Endangered species in Canada, on BC’s mainland.
Photo: Sharp-tail Snake by ToddCarnahan.com on iNaturalist
Photo: Sweet pepperbush by Tom Potterfield on iNaturalist
Nova Scotia’s Belliveau Lake is one of the only places in Canada to see Sweet Pepperbrush and Spotted Pondweed thanks to its unique Atlantic coastal plain habitat.
The populations of these species here are among the northernmost worldwide.
Big Fish River – Little Fish Creek
The site is located near Aklavik, close to the Yukon-Northwest Territories border. The springs that maintain the open water at this site come from below the permafrost but are relatively warm (8-16 degrees Celsius). Dall sheep, caribou, grizzly bears and moose use the area throughout the year. For the Gwich’in, the site has significant historic, cultural and harvesting value.
Tombstone Territorial Park
Tombstone Territorial Park is one of the most ruggedly beautiful parks in Canada. It is home to the Ogilvie Mountains Collared Lemming, a mammal found nowhere else in the world. There is also a long history of human use in the area, with occupation dating back 8,000 years.
Leslie Street Spit
The Leslie Street Spit extends from the Toronto shoreline about 5 km southwest into Lake Ontario immediately to the east of the Toronto Islands. It is a human-made feature that includes both Tommy Thompson Park and nearshore waters and wetlands.
This site is of global significance for two aggregating bird species – Double-crested Cormorant and Ring-billed Gull.
Frank Lake (South)
Frank Lake is considered one of the most important wetlands in southwestern Alberta for breeding water birds. This shallow lake, bordered by marshes and low-lying meadows, also supports significant numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds during both spring and fall migration.
This site qualifies as a global KBA for two aggregating bird species – Franklin’s Gull and Trumpeter Swan.
Aktapok Island is about 70 km. from the mainland of northern Quebec near the centre of Ungava Bay. In addition to being important for colonial seabirds, the waters surrounding the island are important for many marine mammals including walruses and seals. The island is also thought to be an important summer retreat and possible maternity denning area for Polar Bears.
Canadian Lake Superior
Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by area, is an ecologically unique system that contains 10% of the world’s surface freshwater. Over 200 rivers in its watershed feed the lake. Many large communities lie on Lake Superior, along with several Anishinaabe reserves. Ecologically healthy and biologically diverse, over 80 species of fish have been found in Lake Superior, including Siscowet (a large deep-water form of lake trout) and Kiyi, a cisco species.
Fraser River Estuary
Boundary Bay — Roberts Bank — Sturgeon Bank
The Fraser River Estuary is a large complex of interconnected marine, estuarine, freshwater, and agricultural habitats in southwestern British Columbia near the city of Vancouver. This site supports globally significant annual aggregations for 15 bird species and is habitat for many other species of concern like Pacific Water Shrew and Streambank Lupine.
Photo: Fraser River by Josefhanus on Adobe