Koukdjuak and the Crystal Eye of Nunavik

A false gold mine from the 1500s and a nesting waterfowl haven

I. Map boundaries: 60 to 70 degrees North; 60 to 80 degrees West

II. Country: Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador; Nunavut-part of Qikiqtaaluk Region; Quebec including Katavik Regional Government or Nunavik)

III. Overview

In 1576, a voyage from England under the leadership of Martin Frobisher sought to find the Northwest Passage, a straight that would lead to China. He sailed into Frobisher Bay and was ambushed by natives. However, he was able to collect rock specimens. He returned to England, carrying a black stone that assayers pronounced was high grade gold ore. Two more expeditions were funded to explore the gold, and a settlement was made on Kodlunarn (White Man’s) Island to mine the gold. Ships returned to England two times with ore, but when the second shipment of ore arrived in England, they learned that the first shipment of ore had been determined to be worthless. Today the island is preserved as a national historic site.

This map area includes the Ungava Peninsula of Nunavik, Quebec, and islands of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, along with the northern extension of Labrador. The Pingualuit Crater in Quebec contains a circular lake and is known as the “Crystal Eye of Nunavik.” To the north, on Baffin Island, the ice only melts for a few months of the year, in good years. But the harsh climate and resulting lack of predators encourages waterfowl nesting throughout the area. The Great Plain of the Koukdjuak is a wetland of international importance and breeding ground for snow geese. Offshore islands surrounding Baffin Island and the Ungava Peninsula harbor nesting seabirds, often on high cliffs that front the ocean.

Ecologically, this is an area of arctic tundra. However, the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund ecoregions project has delineated the tundra into six different ecoregions in this map area, based on vegetation and wildlife present.

Although the Bay of Fundy is known for the world’s highest tides, Ungava Bay rivals this claim, with tides to 16 m. The difference may be related to the fact that Ungava Bay remains frozen for all but four months of the year, and the tides are less well known. Tidal ranges in Cumberland Sound, Frobisher Bay, and Hudson Straight are also high, exceeding 10 m. The coastlines of Davis Straight, Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay, and Hudson Straight, and Ungava Bay are dotted with islands. The two major bays in Baffin Island, Frobisher Bay and Cumberland Sound, are also island-dotted. Much of the coastline is rocky and steep, although Bowman Bay grades gradually into the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak, and supports tides that extend up to 15 km inland.

IV. Ecoregions and Provinces/Political Subdivisions

All ecoregions are in the Nearctic (NA) Biome


· NA 1105, Baffin Coastal tundra. Vegetation of mosses, herbs, poppy, and woodrush. Found in a small area of Baffin Island along Davis Straight, Nunavut.

· NA 1109, Davis Highlands tundra. Ice-capped mountains overlooking Fjords. Vegetation of mosses, sedge, cottongrass. Found along Davis Straight coastline of Baffin Island and Cumberland Peninsula, Nunavut.

· NA 1110, High Arctic tundra. Clumps of moss, lichen, sedge, and cottongrass. Found in central and northern Baffin Island, Nunavut.

· NA 1114, Low Arctic tundra. An undulating landscape of lakes, ponds, and wetlands at the tundra-subarctic forest transition, characterized by shrubby tundra. Long eskers are characteristic of the area. Found on the west side of Ungava Bay and east side of Hudson Bay south of Chukotat River, Kativik Regional Government area of Quebec; and Mansel Island, Nunavut.

· NA 1115, Middle Arctic tundra. Among the coldest and driest landscapes of Canada. Some arctic willow is present, but mostly herbs and lichen vegetation is present. More shrubby areas are the Meta Incognita Peninsula of Nunavut and northern Ungava Peninsula, Quebec. Found along the Foxe Basin coastline, Hudson Straight coastline and islands, and southern Baffin Island, Nunavut.

· NA 1118, Torngat Mountain tundra. Glacier-carved valleys and fjords along the Labrador Sea. Vegetation is bare rock, lichens, mosses, Arctic sedges, and thickets of evergreen and deciduous shrubs. The Torngat caribou herd is restricted to this ecoregion. Found in Kativik and Labrador.

V. Marine Ecoregions of the World (MEOW)

Arctic Realm, Arctic Province

6. Northern Labrador. Found along the Labrador, Frobisher Bay, and Cumberland Sound coastlines.

7. Baffin Bay-Davis Straight. Found along Baffin Island coastline from Cumberland Sound northward.

8. Hudson Complex. Found in Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay, Hudson Straight, and Ungava Bay.

VI. Freshwater Ecoregions

Freshwater ecoregions are not marked on the map.

North America, Polar Freshwater

111. Western Hudson Bay. Found on Mansel Island.

112. Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Found on Baffin, Nottingham, Salisbury, and Prince Charles Islands.

North America, Temperate Coastal Rivers

113. Eastern Hudson Bay-Ungava. Includes rivers reaching Hudson Bay, Hudson Straight, and Ungava Bay. Some rivers have runs of anadromous Arctic char, Atlantic salmon, or brook trout.

VII. Ramsar Site (Wetlands of International Importance)

Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Nunavut. A broad coastal plain,the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak, with circular shallow lakes, peat-dominated soils and marshes, and scattered granite rock outcrops. The area contains rare examples of high latitude karst. Vegetation is moss and sedge. Noted for goose nesting and barren ground caribou. The area contains one-third of all nesting snow geese and is an important bird area. Ecoregion 1115.

VIII. Other points of interest

Air Force, Foley, and Prince Charles Islands, Nunavut (Foxe Basin Islands Important Bird Area). Islands in the eastern Foxe Basin have extensive tidal mud flats. Terrestrial vegetation is sedge grass. This is an important bird area for white-rumped sandpiper, snow goose, brant, Sabines gull, semipalmated sandpiper, black-bellied plover, American golden plover, ruddy turnstone, and red pharalope.

Akpait National Wildlife Area and Reid Bay Important Bird Area, Nunavut. Located in the eastern map area, this are includes Canada’s largest thick-billed murre colonies, nesting black-legged kittiwakes, glaucous gulls and black guillemots. Ocean cliffs rise to 915 m. Polar bears and marine mammals are also here. Terrestrial ecoregion 1109 and marine ecoregion 7.

Akpatok Island, Nunavut. Thick-billed murres nest along 250-m cliffs on this island in Ungava Bay. An important bird area. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 8.

Auyuittuq (Land That Never Melts) National Park, Nunavut. Glacier-scoured terrain includes Penny Ice Cap and Akshayuk Pass. The park is noted for Arctic Circle wildflowers, sheer granite peaks over 7,000 feet in elevation, and waterfalls. Fork Beard Glacier and Coronation Glacier are within the park. Schwartzenbach Falls on the Weasel River is 660 m in height. Ecoregion 1109.

Awrey Island, Nunavut. Tundra islands off eastern coast of Mansel Island in Hudson Bay provide habitat for breeding common eiders. An important bird area. Terrestrial ecoregion 1114 and marine ecoregion 8.

Blacklead Island National Historic Site, Nunavuk. Island in Cumberland Sound used for a bowhead whale processing station. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregino 6.

Couture, Nunavik. An earth impact crater from 430 million years ago. Ecoregion 1114.

Digges Sound, Nunavik and Nunavut. At the northern tip of the Ungava Peninsula, granit cliffs up to 300 m on the mainland and 200 m on Digges Islands provide nesting habitat for a large number of thick-billed murres. An important bird area. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 8.

Eider Islands, Nunavut. An important bird area. This cluster of 172 islands in western Ungava Bay is noted for nesting common eider and 16 meter high tides. Terrestrial ecoregion 1114 and marine ecoregion 8.

Enukso Point (Inuksuk) National Historic Site, Nunavut. An archaeological complex of 100 stone landmarks. Ecoregion 1115.

Fraser Island, Nunavut. A rocky, sparsely vegetated island northwest of Nottingham Island between Hudson Straight and Hudson Bay noted for large numbers of breeding common eiders. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 8.

Hantzsch Island, Nunavut. During the winter, a large area of open water is maintained in the middle of sea ice at the entrance of Frobisher Bay. This is a natural attraction for walrus, whales, seals, and polar bear, along with thick-billed murre, and black legged kittiwake. Marine ecoregion 6.

Katannilik (Where There Are Waterfalls) Park and Soper Canadian Heritage River, Nunavut. Canoe river through Meta Incognita Peninsula flows over a waterfall into Soper Lake and the Hudson Straight. Reversing falls bring saltwater into the lake. Access to the headwaters to the Soper River is from Frobisher Bay along the Itijjagiaq Trail. Tides are 10 m in this region. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 8.

Kekerten Island National Historic Site and Territorial Park, Nunavut. This island in Cumberland Sound supported a Scottish whaling station in the 1850s and 1860s. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 6.

Kodlunarn Island National Historic Site, Nunavut. A mostly barren island in Frobisher Bay used for Martin Frobisher’s mining activities from 1576 to 1578. The English explorer thought he was mining gold but the material was later found to be worthless. Ecoregion 1115.

Mallikjuaq (Big Wave) Territorial Park, Nunavut. Rounded rock hills, low tundra valleys, archaeological sites, secluded waterfalls and crystal lakes. Thule, Dorset, and Inuit archaeological sites. Ecoregion 1115.

Markham Bay, Nunavut. Important bird area on Hudson Straight with large common eider colony. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 8.

Niginganiq (Iqaliqtuuq) National Wildlife Area, Nunavut. Located in the north central portion of the map, this area incluces summer habitat for a population of bowhead whales. Adults and adolescent whales frequent this area on the east coast of Baffin Island. Terrestrial Ecoregion 1105 and marine ecoregion 7.

Pingualuit (Where the Land Rises) National Park, Nunavik. A circular lake filling the crater of a meteorite that struck 1.4 million years ago. The crater has collected rainwater for a million years and is colorless, tasteless and devoid of mineral content. There is no natural outlet. The park also includes the Puvirnituq River Corridor, Lamarche Lake Canyons, and a canoe network of lakes. Ecoregion 1114.

Qaqulluit National Wildlife Area and Cape Searle Important Bird Area, Nunavut. This area includes two rock towers rising 430 m and hosting northern fulmars. Surrounding waters are important for marine mammals. Terrestrial ecoregion 1109 and marine ecoregion 7.

Qaummaarviit Territorial Park, Nunavut. A small island in Frobisher Bay is rich in archaeological artifacts of the Thule people and modern Inuit. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 6.

Payne Islands and Plover Islands, Nunavut. Important Bird Area in Ungava Bay consists of two archipelagos of 100 islands. Common eiders are known breeders. Terrestrial Ecoregion 1114 and Marine Ecoregion 8.

Torngat Mountains National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador. The northern edge of this park enters the southeastern part of the map area. This range of high barren mountains with Arctic flora forms the northern tip of Labrador. Ecoregion 1118.

Ungava Bay Northeast Islands, Nunavut. Important bird area of three small archipelagoes of several hundred islands surrounding Alluviaq Fiord. A common eider breeding area. Terrestrial Ecoregion 1118 and Marine Ecoregion 8.

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