IBA Cleland Island as an Important Bird Area

Posted February 7, 2000 | Categories : 1,Research |


IBA Cleland Island & Southeast Clayoquot Sound
Tofino, British Columbia
Site Summary
BC080 Latitude
49.186° N
126.074° W
0 – 10 m
396.71 km²
open sea, coastal cliffs/rocky shores (marine)
Land Use:
Not Utilized (Natural Area)
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Disturbance, Oil slicks
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Continentally Significant: Congregatory Species, Nationally Significant: Threatened Species, Congregatory Species, Shorebird Concentrations
Conservation status: Ecological Reserve (provincial)


Site Description

Clayoquot Sound is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, northwest of Barkley Sound. The town of Tofino lies at the southern end of the sound. Cleland Island, at the centre of the area, lies off the west coast of Vargas Island in the mouth of the sound. The site encompasses the marine area in a 10 km radius around Cleland Island. It includes inshore water exposed to open ocean conditions that contain numerous islets and rocky reefs, as well as channels partly bounded and protected by land. Cleland Island is a treeless, low-lying basalt island rising to ten meters in elevation. The higher central area is vegetated with shrubs such as salmonberry and wild rose surrounded by lush grasses and forbs. Eelgrass beds occur at Clayoquot Spit on Stubbs Island. Clouded Salamanders are found at this site and Northern Sea Lion haul out on the reefs.


Cleland Island and other smaller islands in southeastern Clayoquot Sound provide important habitat for four species of breeding birds. Fifty-four pairs of American Black Oystercatchers were recorded in 1986; which is 1% of the global population, and in some years, as many as 57 pairs have been detected on Cleland Island. In 1988, surveys found 1,687 pairs of Glaucous-winged Gulls, which is about 1% of the North American population. Also in 1988, 207 nesting Pigeon Guillemots (2% of the Canadian population) and 5,700 nesting Leachs Storm-Petrels (1% of the Canadian component of the eastern Pacific population) were recorded. Cleland Island is a diverse seabird colony as in addition to the species already mentioned, Cassins Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Tufted Puffin, and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel also breed here.During the summer, the southeast portion of Clayoquot Sound (particularly southeast of Vargas Island and southeast of Flores Island) hosts substantial numbers of Marbled Murrelet (a nationally threatened species). In 1982, 4,500 birds were recorded, whereas in 1993, 2,622 birds were recorded. This most recent survey still represents 5% of the Canadian population. The difference in numbers may be a result of climatic variation and not actual longer-term changes in population. Conversely the loss of old-growth forests to logging, along with other factors, may be causing a genuine decline.

Large numbers of Black Brant use the eelgrass beds; 4,000 birds were recorded in April 1970, but in 1989 only 480 birds were seen. Thousands of White-winged and Surf scoters can be seen while moulting or migrating in early spring. It is likely that over 10,000 waterfowl of various species gather here in spring, but this has not been confirmed.

Summary of bird records available for Cleland Island & Southeast Clayoquot Sound
Click here to view all records
Species Season Number Unit Date
Black Brant (Western) SM 480 – 4,000 G I 1970 – 1989
Black Oystercatcher BR 54 G P 1986
Cassin’s Auklet BR
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel BR
Glaucous-winged Gull BR 1,687 N P 1988
Harlequin Duck (Western) SM
Leach’s Storm-Petrel (E. Pacific) BR 5,700 N P 1988
Marbled Murrelet SU 2,622 – 4,500 G I 1982 – 1993
Pigeon Guillemot BR 207 N I 1988
Rhinoceros Auklet BR
Surf Scoter SM 4,000 I 1971
Tufted Puffin BR
White-winged Scoter SU 3,000 I 1961
Note: species shown in bold indicate that their population level (as estimated by the maximum number) exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (national, continental or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurence.
Conservation Issues

Threats to the area are from potential oil spills, and disturbance from boaters and other visitors. The seabird colony on Cleland Island is fragile and vulnerable to disturbance. Thus it has been protected as an Ecological Reserve that closes it to the public. A portion of the proposed IBA is in relatively accessible waters, since it is close to Tofino and to Pacific Rim National Park (both popular destinations for vacationers), and so boat traffic could be a source of disturbance to flocks of birds on the water.