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Witless Bay Seabird Ecological Reserve Management


Witless Bay Seabird Ecological Reserve is a seabird habitat located in the coastal waters of Newfoundland and Labrador. The reserve contains four seabird colonies located on Green Island, Gull Island, Pee Pee Island, and Great Island. The four islands make the reserve for thousands of seabird species, such as Black-legged Kittiwakes, Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillemots, common murres, and Herring Gulls. The habitat seeks to protect the seabird species from various risks and preserve the existence of special breeds.

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Species Description

There are over a million seabirds of at least ten species breeding on the four islands of the Witless bay reserve. Different species are concentrated in small areas and are adapted to their respective nesting conditions. According to a management plan report by Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (1994), there are approximately 1,001,612 seabirds in the four islands, with Gull Island having the highest population of over half a million. Amongst the species are the rarest seabirds, known as Northern Fulmar, which are only 20 in the four colonies (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Only found in the Great and Gull Islands, this species was first recorded in 1978 and, without nests, lays eggs on wild cliff ledges.

Leach’s Storm-Petrel is the highest in number, with at least 780,000, and exists in all the islands. Like Atlantic puffin, leach’s storm-petrel, including Carey Chicken and Mother Carey’s chick, are burrow nesters (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Rarely seen during the day, Storm-petrels occupy the steep top regions of the islands. Puffins, including Baccalieu Birds and Sea Parrot, live on the steep and grassy slopes of the islands. The Black-legged Kittiwake nests on the small outcrops of the island’s cliff, rarely occupied by other species. Common Murres are known for laying a single egg on the rocky cliff ledges. Black Guillemots and Razorbills breed in lower numbers and prefer to nest on the covering cliff ledges (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Other seabirds, such as Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls, nest in similar rocky or grassy habitats and lay 2 to 3 eggs.

Concerns Regarding the Species

Major concerns about the seabirds are related to the activities that threaten their lives and habitats. One of the activities is fishing which is a serious cause of death for different species (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). As fishermen catch many seabirds during their fishing sessions, some birds drown and die in the water. Hunting by humans and other birds eating animals also adds risk to the lives of these species. Another activity is vessels and boat tour operations which, due to increased speed or related activities, may cause disturbance to breeding processes (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Tourists and local people take vessel and boat tours to watch the seabirds. While the boats may be passing near the nesting areas of some species, it may cause them to flee, leaving their eggs behind. Furthermore, frequent human visits to the reserve may cause stress to the birds.

Destruction of major habitats for seabirds is another worrying activity often performed by humans. Cutting trees where some seabirds build their nests could be traumatizing for such birds and prevent their breeding processes (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Seabirds are also vulnerable to other carnivorous animals that may feed on them. Aircraft activities, increased vessel traffic, and research cabins built by researchers are other activities that threaten seabirds’ existence (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Finally, water pollution negatively affects the health of seabirds and, at worst, causes a fatality.

Reserve Management

Witless bay reserve management was developed in Newfoundland and Labrador due to the nutrient-rich state of the region to support the large quantity and diverse seabird species. The coastal region also provides safe breeding sites for the birds as well as their habitats (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). The four islands were selected because they are natural habitats of different seabird species recorded in the Witless reserve. Another reason for selecting these islands is that they host unique and rare seabird species in the world.

Witless bay reserve manages seabird habitats by protecting the birds from human and animal activities that place the lives of seabirds at risk. By establishing an advisory committee, the reserve advised the natural and park area divisions about the need to protect the seabirds (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Recreational fishing was allowed in reserve, while commercial fishing was well monitored to prevent endangering the seabirds. Activities such as hunting and speedy boats and vessels are prohibited in the region (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Restriction of reserve access, only authorized research cabins, restriction of damage or removal of trees or animals to scientific study, and reduced aircraft speed and vessel traffic are among other management measures taken by Witless bay.

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Problems Encountered during Management

Major challenges faced by Witless bay reserve during management are associated with uncontrollable activities that endanger seabirds. Water pollution in the oceans is a primary problem because seabirds are affected by the pollutants (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Another problem is the killing of seabirds by other animals on the islands. Although the reserve may protect the seabirds from domestic animals, they may not be in a position to protect them from wild animals (Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, 1994). Therefore, the deaths of seabirds by animals and the health effects of water pollution are serious problems. Light pollution, especially for burrowing species, is another challenge caused by climate change (“Witless Bay Ecological Reserve,” 2021). Atlantic puffins are highly affected by increased natural light, which occurs during moon phases. The increasing natural light day and night means that the burrow-nesting birds have to spend more time underground, thus affecting their feeding and breeding processes.

Current Status of the Species

The 2021 report by the Witless bay reserve website shows that seabird species are increasing in numbers compared to their report in 1994. The reserve host the second-largest number of Leach’s Storm-petrel in the world, with at least 620 000 pairs (“Witless Bay Ecological Reserve,” 2021). The Atlantic puffin population has also increased to 260,000 pairs in reserve. Furthermore, Common Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes have grown to thousands. The seabirds spend most of their time at sea and return to the land for breeding between May and August (“Witless Bay Ecological Reserve,” 2021). However, seabirds are highly affected by ongoing climatic changes such as water and light pollution and the extinction of various plants (“Witless Bay Ecological Reserve,” 2021). Puffins are particularly affected by increased natural light in their habitats today. Consequently, they are forced to stay for longer hours in the burrowers are moon phases increase.


Witless bay seabird ecological reserve hosts more than a million seabirds and continues to grow every day. The birds exist in many species and nest according to their adaptations. Atlantic puffins and Leach’s Storm-petrel are fast-growing despite various climatic changes experienced in the regions. The reserve management is equally committed to reserving different climate change effects to ensure the continued preservation of the special species and foster scientific studies. Researchers also continue to study the seabirds to discover more species and meet their needs.


Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. (2021). Environment and climate change. Web.

Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. (1994). Management plan. Web.

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