Use of satellite imagery for monitoring Canada and Brant Geese habitat changes in Eeyou Itschee (James Bay, Québec)

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University of New Brunswick


James Bay, Canada is a vital staging and feeding area for migrating waterfowl – mainly Canada and brant geese (Branta canadensis, B. bernicla) and is used in nesting and brood rearing. The eastern coast of James Bay is particularly important for migratory geese because the area has meadows of eelgrass (Zostera marina L.), the primary feeding source for the geese. Changes in sedimentation rates, erosion, and water depth may impact the eelgrass meadows. This study aims to assess the use of Landsat and Sentinel-1 imagery to map the changes in geese habitat in Eeyou Istchee, James Bay between 1984- 1985 and 2019-2020. The Change was measured by comparing geese habitat maps for 1984-1985 and 2019-2020 from the Random Forest Classifier, using a combination of Landsat 5 TM, Landsat 8 OLI, and Sentinel-1 imagery. The overall classification accuracies for the 1984-1985 and 2019-2020 images were 93.69%, and 97.88%, respectively. Between the two time periods, there were observable changes in geese habitats with the burned (+236.24%), deciduous forest (+177.91%), and bedrock (+151.06%) areas experiencing the greatest increase, while the bareland (-68.6%), tidal flat (-43.52%) and shrubland (-29.19%) areas experienced the greatest decline. These changes observed may be attributed to natural causes (climate, wildfire) or anthropogenic causes (damming, deforestation). This study is part of the James Bay Coastal Habitat Comprehensive Research Program (JBCHCRP), a Cree-driven project aiming to combine Cree's traditional knowledge with Western science to understand better environmental changes in the coastal ecosystems and ecosystem services of Eeyou Istchee.