Montreal

Rare flora, fauna on Isle-aux-Grues get a helping hand with new protected territory

In the middle of the St. Lawrence River, just a ferry ride away from Montmagny, Que., lies a small island that’s teeming with flora and fauna — some of which can’t be found anywhere apart from that region

The new protected area is about 92 hectares, or just over 1 square kilometre, of the island

Over 200 bird species live there, making Isle-aux-Grues a birdwatching hotspot. (Radio-Canada)

In the middle of the St. Lawrence River, just a ferry ride away from Montmagny, Que., lies a small island that's teeming with flora and fauna — some of which can't be found anywhere apart from that region.

That's part of the reason a section of the Isle-aux-Grues​ has just gotten protected status from the federal Ministry of the Environment, after years of work by the non-profit Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

The new protected area is about 92 hectares, or just over one square kilometre, of the island, which almost doubles the amount of protected space there. In total, the island is about six square kilometres large.

Over 200 bird species live there, making Isle-aux-Grues a birdwatching hotspot. 

Most of them live and breed in the grassy, marshy wetlands on the island, according to Patrice Laliberté, NCC spokesperson.

"Those types of areas, a natural landscape like this, it becomes a rarity in the southern part of Quebec," Laliberté told CBC All in a Weekend host Ainslie MacLellan.

The small island is about 80 kilometres east from Quebec City, and has fewer than 200 inhabitants. 

Threatened species

Some of those birds include the bobolink, a threatened species that makes a sound like the Star Wars robot R2D2, Laliberté said.

There are also short-eared owls, yellow rails and Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow, all species the NCC says are either of special concern or threatened.

The rare violet-flowered plant Victorin's gentian is also a sight on the island.

"The species is endemic," Laliberté said. "That means it's the only part of the world where you can find them."

Isle-aux-Grues is an island accessible by ferry from Montagny, Que. (Radio-Canada)

On top of the rare flora and fauna, marshlands are at the base of the ecosystem since they filter the water and provide food for many species, Laliberté said.

He said the new protected status for the island means the site's use can't be changed.

That doesn't mean there's no upkeep involved, though. Since the first settlers arrived on the island, invasive species invaded the land.

"To manage that sometimes we will do some cutting, like the people did for the last 400 years," Laliberté said. "It will help the species."

With files from CBC's All in a Weekend