It's through the efforts of passionate workers that the natural beauty, like that on Île aux Lièvres, can now be enjoyed by friends, families or couples who visit the islands for a few hours or days.
For over 40 years, biologist Jean Bédard has overseen the activities of Société Duvetnor, a nonprofit organization. Its history is fascinating in and of itself. Since its creation in 1979 by a small group of biologists, this organization that is dedicated to preserving the islands of the St. Lawrence River has financed its activities by allowing visitors to spend time on the islands, but also by harvesting and selling a precious resource: the down of eiders, which are wild ducks that nest by the thousands in the estuary.
Jean Bédard explains that, since the 1950s, the gleaning of this rare material, used to make high-quality quilts, was practised on all the islands, but often under conditions that had little respect for the birds or their habitat. Obtaining an exclusive harvesting licence has permitted Duvetnor to regulate the practice. Eiderdown gatherers follow a strict protocol, intended to cause minimum disruption to the nesting process, and collect the down by hand each spring. This activity has also provided Duvetnor with financial leverage that has enabled it to purchase, since 1984, several of the islands in the estuary, for which the organization has adopted a triple mission: protect them, study them and raise public awareness about them. The ducks are therefore the first to support, unwittingly, the preservation of their habitat!
Over the years, Duvetnor has acquired considerable credibility, both with governments and with scientists and environmentalists. It also has a solid reputation as an ecotourism enterprise, having developed over the years an original offering that allows nature lovers to discover, in small groups, the estuary's natural and cultural wealth. This success is in large part due to the personality and relentless work of Jean Bédard who, at age 82, continues to run the organization with ambition and pragmatism.