Izembek, Moffett, and Kinzarof lagoons are marine bays located on the the Alaska Peninsula close to the southwestern tip. The lagoon and intertidal habitats are managed by the State of Alaska as Izembek State Game Refuge, while the surrounding uplands are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Izembek Lagoon was designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention due to its use by migratory waterbirds, particularly geese.

This IBA site is approximately 48 km long by 3-10 km wide and partially enclosed from the southwest and northeast by two long spits and a series of mostly low, sparsely vegetated barrier islands. Tidal and subtidal portions of Izembek Lagoon contain what are probably the largest eelgrass beds in the world. An estimated 60-70 % of the 218 km2 Izembek Lagoon is vegetated with eelgrass.

Ornithological Summary

The location of Izembek Lagoon complex along avian migration routes and the presence of an abundant food resource (eelgrass) make Izembek Lagoon one of the most important migratory bird staging and wintering habitats in the world. More than 82 species of birds have been documented using habitats in the vicinity of Izembek lagoon. The site is especially critical for the many species of waterfowl (particularly geese) and shorebirds that undertake transoceanic flights to wintering habitats on the lower North Pacific coast or southern Pacific islands. The area regularly supports more than 90% of the eastern Pacific coast population of Brant, more than half the world population of Emperor Geese, and a significant percentage of the world populations of Steller's Eider and Taverner's Canada Goose.
Shorebird habitats are diverse at this site. Extensive unvegetated mud and sand flats occur throughout the lagoons. Sand beaches run the entire length of the Bering Sea side of all barrier islands and protecting peninsulas. Twenty-eight species of shorebirds have been recorded on the area, 20 of them as migrants and 8 as breeders. The largest number of shorebirds recorded on a single-day count was 41,351 in mid October. Three speciesRock Sandpiper, Dunlin and Western Sandpiperaccount for more than 95% of all shorebirds recorded. Rock Sandpipers are the single most abundant species, with more than 32,000 present in early September, followed by Dunlins, that peak at 28,000 birds in mid October. Use by Least Sandpipers may exceed both of these figures combined, but areas favored by this species are difficult to survey.

Conservation Issues

There is some concern about pressure from commercial guided waterfowl hunting. At present, the Izembek State Game Refuge lacks any sanctuaries where waterfowl are undisturbed. Over the longer term, there is potential for oil development in Bristol Bay, which, because of ocean circulation patterns, could threaten Izembek Lagoon. Finally, if global climate change results in increased sea levels in the Bering Sea, this could harm eelgrass beds, which could not survive even small increases in water levels.


State (Alaska Department of Fish and Game), Federal (U.S.Fish and Wildlife Serivce), Native.

Izembek State Game Refuge
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Ramsar site


Rocky intertidal, Intertidal mud/sandflats, Eel grass beds, Barrier island/bars, Sand beach, and Vegetated intertidal

Shoreline 419 km
Barrier beach/spit -29 km
Veget. intertidal 157 km
Unveg. intert. - 125 km

Land Use

Subsistance hunting, Recreation

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.