Keeping Birds Safe in Safety Sound

An Important Bird Area (IBA) for nesting Aleutian Terns, foraging Tundra Swans, and more.

Tundra Swans spend summers in Safety Sound.
Tundra Swan. Photo: John and Karen Hollingsworth.

Imagine the wild waters of the Bering Sea. Huge storm surges, unpredictable winds, waves as tall as buildings. Now, think of a quiet lagoon, protected from these wild ocean moods by rock and sand, eelgrass beds, the natural protective barriers of nature. This is Safety Sound, one of Audubon Alaska’s Important Bird Areas (IBA), first identified in 1981 as a state IBA because it houses colonies of nesting Aleutian Terns. It is also summer foraging grounds for Tundra Swans, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that make Safety Sound not only an important part of our global Pacific Flyways, but also a necessary resource for subsistence hunters from across northwestern Alaska, especially near the community of Nome. It is also one of Alaska’s best known birding destinations, and each year, as birds from around the world congregate in Safety Sound, so do bird watchers.

A gold dredging project in Safety Sound was recently proposed by a Las Vegas-based mining company. The company proposed to dredge 300 acres of wetlands in Safety Sound, including known eelgrass habitat, over the course of ten years. They proposed no mitigation or restoration for the area as part of their application for a permit with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). They made no mention of the loss of bird watching economies in the region, the impacts on subsistence, and instead focused on how this large-scale dredging project would not impact this fragile estuary system. We heard from members around the state of Alaska and responded with a formal letter to ACOE requesting they do not move forward with the permit for this project. Audubon Alaska’s board member Aaron Lang, owner and guide for Alaska Wilderness Birding Adventures, said this in his submitted comment: “I am astounded that this project has not undergone a thorough and complete Endangered Species Act review especially given that in this document the applicant acknowledged that, "the project area is within the known or historic range of the Steller's Eider, Spectacled Eider, Polar Bear, Polar Bear Critical Habitat, Beringia bearded seals, Arctic ringed seals."

Safety Sound is one of Alaska’s nutrient-rich coastal estuaries that provides a lifeline for spawning salmon, migratory birds, and people. We cannot allow short-sighted development with no plans to restore what they destroy to happen in these sanctuaries. We thank you, our members for bringing this to our attention and asking us to take action.

How you can help, right now