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Prince Leopold Island, NU

Prince Leopold Island (74 N, 90 W), affectionately known as "PLI" (and often "Alcatraz"), is a stunning Migratory Bird Sanctuary situated on the Northwest Passage, where Lancaster Sound meets Prince Regent Inlet. The island is entirely a Migratory Bird Sanctuary protected and operated by Environment Canada. PLI is approximately 11 km wide with 330+m cliffs on virtually all sides, and sits 13 km northeast of Somerset Island. The Canadian Wildlife Service initiated a seabird monitoring program at this location in the mid-1970s, and much of that work, particularly on Thick-billed Murres (Uria lomvia), was summarized in the seminal monograph "The Thick-billed Murres of Prince Leopold Island", by Tony Gaston and David Nettleship. Led by Environment Canada's Tony Gaston (for population research) and Birgit Braune (contaminants research), studies have continued at PLI to the present, and my teams have been fortunate enough to collaborate with these superb scientists. The island supports breeding populations of Thick-billed Murres, Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis), Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), Glaucous Gulls (Larus hyperboreus), and Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle). It is a breath-taking, multi-species seabird colony.

In most years, the floe edge (where open water meets the pack or landfast ice) is situated at PLI in early June, meaning that both marine birds and marine mammals are common around the island. Breeding success of seabirds at the site is highly dependent on ice position and duration.

The field station has 2 cabins (as of 2011), one for sleeping up to 8 people, and a small kitchen cabin. Although Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) are uncommon on the top of PLI, they are common along the spits at the base of the cliffs. Hence, all people working at the site are required to carry and know how to operate shotguns, as well as having Standard First Aid certification. There is no running water; in fact our water supply is from snow that we melt and store in blue barrels, or from a shallow meltwater pond shared with kittiwakes, so we have to be careful through the season. Showering is clearly optional. Access to the station is by Twin Otter or helicopter. A full field season runs from early June to late August.

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