The newest of the Reserve’s Special Areas, Peard Bay encompasses 107,000 acres in the northwest between Barrow and Wainwright. This area includes high densities of ice seals and polar bears, and the highest density of spectacled eider nesting areas in Alaska. The colorful males display black feathers surrounding white eye patches, resembling a pair of spectacles! Tens of thousands of shorebirds, especially red phalaropes, move through Peard Bay after breeding.
Peard Bay also provides haul out areas for ringed and bearded seals. Peard Bay is characterized by thousands of small thaw lakes, freshwater bodies formed in a depression by meltwater from thawing permafrost.
VISIT MORE: Peard Bay | Colville River | Kasegaluk Lagoon| Teshepuk Lake | Utukok River Uplands
Spectacled Eider: This species’ name comes from its adult males, whose breeding plumage is characterized by a white back and a black tail, belly and chest, and a bright orange bill with white feathers at the base – and of course, its green shaggy head with round white “spectacles” around each eye;
Length: Males, 20 inches long/Females, 19 inches long;
Weight: 3 lbs;
Fun Fact: Spectacled eiders spend much of the year in places so remote that its wintering grounds were only recently discovered in 1999.
PEOPLE AND THE REGION
Peard Bay is located just to the northeast of Wainwright, and southwest of Barrow. The area provides feeding and haul-out areas for spotted seals and walrus, and provides habitat for nesting loons, waterfowl and shorebirds, all of which are important subsistence foods for the Inupiat.
One of the largest threats to the Peard Bay Special Area is potential energy development in the Arctic Ocean – there is currently no prohibition against developing an infrastructure corridor, such as a pipeline, to transport oil from offshore drilling through Peard Bay and into Alaska’s interior or across northern Alaska to facilities at Prudhoe Bay.
Climate change is also having a profound effect on the region – rising temperatures and the disappearance of sea ice is causing more and more marine mammals, such as seals and walrus, to haul-out on the mainland resulting in greater vulnerability to predators and hunters. In addition, melting permafrost is removing a critical buffer between coastlines and the impact of ocean waves. As permafrost disappears, coastal erosion could become significant, destroying wildlife habitat and nesting areas and disrupting the traditional knowledge of local populations. The coastal denning and feeding habitats for threatened polar bears become more important every year as sea ice levels continue to decline.