Not a single Northern gannet can be found on the seven islands that belong to the Gannet Islands Ecological Reserve. The name comes from a 19th-century British survey ship. That said, there is no shortage of seabirds on the remote island group 40 km northeast of Cartwright. The reserve is the largest and most diverse seabird breeding colony in Labrador.
The Gannet Islands Ecological Reserve protects the largest razorbill colony in North America—10,000 breeding pairs—and the third-largest (after Witless Bay and Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserves) Atlantic puffin breeding colony in North America—more than 38,000 pairs.
The Gannet Islands also host 36,000 breeding pairs of common murres and 1,900 breeding pairs of thick-billed murres, and scores of black-legged kittiwakes, great black-backed gulls, and northern fulmars. During summer, the islands are also a staging area for harlequin ducks preparing for their southern migration.
The islands are in Labrador's Coastal Barrens ecoregion (681 KB), and so their interior has tundra vegetation, mainly dwarf sedges, low-lying heaths, and shrubby plants. But it is the slopes of boulder scree, rock cliffs, and turf that provide habitat for the razorbills and puffins.
The low-lying, rocky Gannet Islands were used as a landmark by sailors for centuries. Today, due to the significance and sensitivity of the site, visits to the reserve are restricted to scientific researchers only.
The Gannet Islands were established as a wildlife reserve in 1964. In 1983 they were designated the Gannet Islands Ecological Reserve, after the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act was passed. The reserve takes in 22 km2; 20 km2 of the reserve area is a marine component-the ocean surrounding the islands.
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