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The Triangle Island Ecological Reserve

Triangle Island

Northernmost extent of Vancouver Island

Triangle Island, located of the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island, is the largest seabird colony in British Columbia, hosting huge numbers of nesting and visiting birds, including perhaps over 50% of the entire worldwide population of Cassin’s auklets, as well as a rich assemblage of intertidal and subtidal life. Its access to humans is strictly regulated to preserve the colony, and Simon Fraser University operates a year-round research station on the island, documenting the bird diversity each year and providing a cabin and workspace from which students can conduct their research projects.

Location and Access

Coordinates: 50°51’N 129°05’W

Located about 40 km north-west of Cape Scott Provincial Park, and about 110 km from Port Hardy, Triangle Island is the outermost extension of the Scott Islands, off of Cape Scott Provincial Park. Accessible by private boat only, humans need permission from the Ministry of the Environment if they wish to set foot on the island as it is designated as an ecological reserve.

Traditionally, the island was visited by First Nations hunters, and in 1910, the number of shipwrecks off of the island prompted the installation of a lighthouse on the island, which was subsequently disassembled in 1920. The geography of the island makes it unsuitable for docking, with all sides of the island being exposed and without good anchorage. As such, it is typically only the visiting researchers who even attempt to land there.


Triangle Island is very steep sided and exposed, with rich soil due to bird droppings, but is too windy to allow any significant tree growth. Nearby, and connected at low tide, is Puffin Island, which is similar to, but much smaller than, Triangle Island. At the top of the steep sides there is a plateau, where most of the ground-nesting birds will make their nests. This area is either virtually bare, or covered with a thin layer of vegetation.
Plants on the island include salmonberry, ferns, crabapple, hairgrass, and salal. All of the plants grow quite close to the ground, and may be stunted in appearance due to the incredible wind load that they must face during the winter months. The waters surrounding the island are equally craggy and rocky, providing a perfect habitat for most intertidal and subtidal life.

Life on the Island:

Triangle Island and the surrounding areas teem with life. Over 30 different species of birds inhabit the island, with seabirds predominating. The most common birds are Cassin’s auklet, tufted puffins, common murres, rhinocerous auklets, pelagic cormorants, storm-petrels, northwestern crows, and various songbirds. There are only three terrestrial mammals, the introduced domestic rabbit, Keen’s mouse, and Townsend’s vole, and this lack of terrestrial predators is one of the reasons this island makes such a good bird colony. In the waters surrounding the island there is most marine life typical of the BC coast, as well as the largest Stellar’s sea lion rookery in Canada. Whales, dolphins, sea otters and even the occasional elephant seal also frequent the area.

Most species on the island are given special status from the BC Ministry of the Environment, some not due to low numbers, but simply due to the fact that such a large percentage of their population returns to this one, concentrated spot every year. Species that are red listed by the BC Government are the Townsend’s vole, northern sea lion, horned puffin, thick-billed murre, common murre, and the northern abalone.

The Cassin’s auklet is blue-listed in BC, and as mentioned, perhaps 50% of the entire population of this species nests on the island. Recent estimates put the breeding population around 1,100,000 individuals making Triangle Island an incredibly important site for this species.


Web site ©: The Institute for Coastal and Oceans Research (ICOR) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada.