Ungava Bay is a large, shallow body of water covering about 50,000 square kilometres in Nunavik, the Inuit territory of northern Quebec and is home to many species of wildlife, fish and birds. Located south of Hudson Strait and west of the Torngat Mountains in Labrador, Ungava Bay is only about 150 metres deep and is studded by small islands and inlets.

In winter, the bay is filled with thick, rubbled, first-year ice. By summer, the bay clears and has some of the highest tides in the world, including a 17-metre tide in the Bay of Leaves (Baie aux Feuilles).

An Important Arctic Ecosystem

Like that of the rest of the Arctic, the bay’s rich ecosystem is experiencing significant pressures as a consequence of climate change. In addition, regional hydroelectric developments that power large North American cities are influencing local ice and water conditions.

Ungava Bay is home to six of Nunavik’s 14 communities, including Kuujjuaq, the largest village in Nunavik, which spreads across the southern end of the bay along the Koksoak River. Inuit who live here rely on the natural bounty of these waters, harvesting beluga, polar bears, Arctic char, seals, clams, mussels and many other marine organisms in the smaller bays of Ungava Bay. Several tourism outfitters, especially fly fishers, have recognized the rich beauty of Ungava Bay, and it is a popular spot for visitors.

The bay hosts the largest number of breeding thick-billed murres in Canada, as well as important seabird colonies, eider nesting areas and foraging habitat. Arctic char feed in these waters in summer, and polar bears breed and rear their young. An endangered beluga population, estimated at fewer than 100 whales, spends time in Ungava Bay during the open water seasons. The bay has been deemed to be an important Arctic ecosystem under a variety of federal and Inuit conservation planning processes.

Threats to the Bay

Climate change, as well as hydroelectric projects that have dammed large rivers, affect the bay’s sea ice and ecosystem. The beluga population is currently listed as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The decline of this population began at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries as a result of commercial whaling. Their numbers have not recovered due to alterations in habitat, including the large river dams, ship noise, dredging and industrial activities. As well, tourism and iron ore mining are likely to increase ship traffic in this region, posing risks to its marine ecosystem. Each of these threats could affect the Inuit way of life, culture, tradition and subsistence harvesting in the bay.

Initiatives for Protection

Oceans North supports Nunavik Inuit interest in conserving this region as part of the federal government’s commitment to protect at least 10 per cent of Canada’s oceans by the year 2020. We are working with the Nunavik Inuit land claim organizations to create a dialogue with the federal government about potential marine protected areas that should be set aside within the Nunavik Marine Region.

In Ungava Bay, Oceans North is documenting local expert knowledge about how mammals, fish and invertebrates use the marine environment in light of concerns about the effects of proposed mining and shipping activities. The project examines how species interact with their habitat throughout their life cycles and in different seasons, especially in areas of vital subsistence harvesting. Once collected, this information could be used to assist marine conservation efforts. In addition, Oceans North supports the advancement of Inuit-led marine conservation options throughout the Nunavik Marine Region.