Five of Canada’s wildest islands

Sea lion

These isolated ecosystems boast some of the country’s most diverse populations of plants and animals, including rare and endangered species.

It’s WWF Water Wednesday, when Love Nature television explores the unique characteristics, natural history, environmental challenges and threats facing waters and aquatic species in Canada and around the world, hosted by WWF-Canada president and CEO David Miller. Tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT watch Secrets of the Waterside, and below read on about some of Canada’s most ecologically diverse islands.

From remote, uninhabitable bits of land to heavily populated provinces, Canada is home to an incredible array of islands. The total number has never been established, but with 30,000 along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay alone, you can bet there are quite a few. These isolated ecosystems boast some of the country’s most diverse collections of plants and animals, including rare and endangered species that are heavily influenced by the watersheds surrounding them. Until recently, we had no way of understanding the threats these watersheds face at a national level, but WWF-Canada is working to address that by performing the first nationwide assessment of Canada’s watersheds. Once complete, it will provide the information we need to protect them and the remarkable ecosystems they support, including ecologically diverse islands like these five.

Sable Island
Three hundred kilometres from the shores of Halifax in the Atlantic is a small, crescent-shaped chunk of land known as Sable Island. This remote and isolated ecosystem is thriving with a fascinating mix of life, including plants, birds and insects found nowhere else on the planet. It’s also an important breeding ground, used by the world’s largest rookery of grey seals and the rare Ipswich sparrow, which is just one of the more than 300 species of birds found on the island. But Sable Island is best known for the hundreds of feral horses that live there, freely roaming the sweeping sand dunes that dominate its landscape.

Bonaventure Island

Gannet colony
A large colony of northern gannets nesting on the shoreline of Bonaventure Island. (Photo via JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock)

Quebec’s Bonaventure Island, or l’île Bonaventure, in the St. Lawrence Gulf off Gaspé, is a bird-lover’s paradise. Its 75-metre-high red sandstone cliffs are covered in more than 500 plant species, and the multitude of fish in the surrounding Gulf of St. Lawrence feed nearly 200,000 seabirds that nest there. More than half of those birds are part of the world’s second-largest colony of northern gannets, a mostly white, long-winged bird that’s become synonymous with the island. The rest are made up of more than 200 separate species, most notably the black-legged kittiwake and the common murre.

Middle Island
Middle Island on Lake Erie in Southern Ontario is one of a series of small islands found off the tip of Point Pelee National Park, an important migratory stopover for millions of monarch butterflies and hundreds of bird species. As the southernmost point in Canada, the island’s landscape is characterized by lush Carolinian forest, which provides an excellent environment for plants and animals rarely found in other parts of the country, like the Lake Erie watersnake and Kentucky coffee-tree. These at-risk species are just two of the more than 150 plants and animals that live on this small, 18-hectare piece of land.

Haida Gwaii

Balance rock on Haida Gwaii (Photo via Chris Kolaczan / Shutterstock)
Balance rock on Haida Gwaii (Photo via Chris Kolaczan / Shutterstock)

Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, this dagger-shaped archipelago off the northern coast of British Columbia has actually been referred to as “Canada’s Galapagos” due to the impressive range of flora and fauna found on land and along its coast. More than 20 different marine mammals, including dolphins, sea lions and whales, frequent the relatively undisturbed waters surrounding Haida Gwaii. Amid the islands’ soaring mountains and old-growth rainforests live bald eagles, bears and a number of subspecies, like the saw-whet owl and hairy woodpecker, which aren’t found anywhere else in the world.

Scott Islands
They might be easy to miss on a map, but just off Vancouver Island’s northwestern coast are five small islands—Triangle, Sartine, Beresford, Lanz and Cox—that contribute to one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Collectively known as the Scott Islands, their rocky, wave-battered coastlines help sustain one of the largest and most productive rookeries of Steller sea lions. But the islands are most recognized for the incredible transformation they undergo each spring, when more than one million seabirds, including 90 per cent of the country’s tufted puffins and 50 per cent of the world’s Cassin’s auklets, arrive to breed.

Tune in every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT for WWF Water Wednesdays on Love Nature to learn more about current water issues from around the world.