Sable Island’s tireless champion

Sable Island is on track to become a new Canadian national park. But you can’t really talk about Sable without mentioning Zoe Lucas and her work there.  She’s lived on the remote sandy island, 160km off the coast of Nova Scotia, for the past 40 years, 30 of them year-round. In that time, she’s become well known as a passionate defender of Sable Island and a strong advocate for its protection.

That’s why CPAWS is pleased to have formed a coalition with Zoe and her organization, the Sable Island Green Horse Society, as well as the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre. Together we’re advocating for a national park management plan that truly puts ecological integrity first.

Nobody knows the island more intimately, or better understands its uniqueness, its vulnerability, its isolation, or its natural rhythms than Zoe.  When the federal and Nova Scotia governments announced their intention to designate Sable Island as a national park last year, many in the province reserved judgment based on concerns that it might increase visitation.  They wanted to hear from Zoe first about how she thought this would impact the island that Nova Scotians hold so dear.  That trust has developed over many years.

Interested in the island from an early age, Zoe first arrived on Sable in 1971 as a student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design for a few days to help out on a project with a journalist.  Moving to the island wasn’t part of the plan.  It just kind of happened after setting foot on the island.  “Like a seed, I took root immediately”, she says.

Living in a modest dwelling in one of the old research buildings on the island, with solar panels for satellite radio, her laptop, and a couple of lights, Zoe has been undertaking valuable scientific research for years.  In addition to monitoring the wild horses, which usually number between 250 and 350, and keeping track of their ancestry going back generations, Zoe monitors the beaches, recording the litter that washes up on the island each year and detecting changes over time. 

Plastic is becoming much more prevalent on the island.  She gathers thousands of balloons washed ashore on Sable Island each year, tracking their origins from the advertising written on the balloons. Most come from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and the mid-western States.

Zoe also collects oiled seabirds that wash up on the island, killed by the bilge oil pumped into the sea illegally from passing ships.  Over the years her research has shown a dramatic decrease in the number of birds killed from bilge oil -- down from about 75% to 5% within the past five years.   This happy news may be a result of efforts to educate ship crews on the dangers of pumping bilge oil at sea, and increased enforcement and better technologies.  This is just one of many examples of the benefits of Zoe’s research in understanding changes in the environment not just on Sable Island, but more broadly in the North Atlantic as well. 

Several years ago, when the federal government decided to cut funding to the research station on Sable Island, Zoe sounded the alarm and ultimately saved the station.  Now she’s working to ensure that the national park designation for Sable Island will help protect the island’s ecological integrity and that the management plan developed by Parks Canada gets it right when managing the number of visitors allowed on the island each year. 

Zoe is also an advocate for “fair access” to the island, so that the island doesn’t become a place where only the wealthy can go, since it is so expensive to get there.  She notes that visitation is increasing to the island, particularly for commercial interests, and managing this properly is vital.

Home to the largest dune systems in eastern North America, the largest breeding colony of grey seals in the world, and a number of species-at-risk including the Ipswich Savannah sparrow and roseate tern, Sable Island is truly an extraordinary wilderness gem that we will all benefit by protecting.

We congratulate Zoe on her tireless efforts to protect Sable Island.

~Chris Miller

This article appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Canadian Wilderness


Bay of Fundy already on CPAWS natural wonder list

The Bay of Fundy is the only Canadian entry in the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World competition, and it is going up against some steep competition: Great Barrier Reef, Amazon rainforest, and Grand Canyon to name a few.  Tomorrow, the votes will be revealed and the winners announced.

But, to anyone who has gone for a walk along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, or seen the majestic whales who visit there each year, it’s obvious that the Bay is already a global treasure regardless of what some competition says.

Watching the world’s highest tides go up and down puts us humans in our place.  All that water rushing in and rushing out, raising and dropping the level of the ocean by up to 50 feet, one can’t help but feel tiny on this planet.  When the tide goes out, the fishing boats at the wharfs are left high-and-dry, tipped over on their sides on the mud well below the wharfs.

Near Apple River, NS, where the nearby inlet almost entirely drains of water at low tide, the fishermen don’t really even bother with a wharf.  They just tie their boats to large poles stuck in the mud and make sure they get back to shore before the tides empty their harbour.  It’s an impressive site indeed.

And, if you’ve ever seen the whales of the Bay of Fundy, you’ll know just how rich the marine life here is.  There are twelve species of whales in the Bay, including the very endangered North Atlantic Right whale.  Nothing beats being out on the Bay in a zodiac and watching these majestic creatures go about their business.

Surprisingly, however, even though the governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are asking the world to vote for the Bay of Fundy, one doesn’t need to dig too far to realize that we’re not doing much at all to protect the magnificent ecosystems of the Bay.  Fundy lacks a system of genuine marine protected areas, even for the areas of critical significance for the whales, leaving much of its rich diversity at risk, even as the Bay is increasingly used for industrial activities.

One of the sea lanes has been moved in recent years, which is helping reduce collisions between ships and whales.  It’s a welcome step, but more needs to be done.

CPAWS has been calling on the government of Canada, with support from the provincial governments, to establish a National Marine Conservation Area for the outer Bay of Fundy region for years.  Parks Canada has commissioned a study, but hasn’t released the results.  And, our governments are oddly silent on the need to truly protect the Bay of Fundy and stand behind the call-to-action to vote for the Bay.

So, with the release of the New Seven Wonders results tomorrow, CPAWS is hoping that the Bay of Fundy will be on that list, but regardless of the outcome we’ll keep up the pressure to finally protect the Bay, and its ecological riches, once and for all.

~Chris Miller


CPAWS bioblitz at Chignecto bolsters conservation

CPAWS has just finished a mini-bioblitz in the Chignecto area of Nova Scotia, working with experts who identified 73 species of birds over 3-days in an area proposed for protection by the provincial government.  We also identified a couple of rare species, including two species that are nationally-significant and listed by COSEWIC (e.g. olive-sided flycatcher and rusty blackbird).  Once Chignecto is officially protected, this will be the largest new protected area established in Nova Scotia in over a decade.  Thanks to everybody who helped out.

Protecting Chignecto

There's an amazing place in Nova Scotia called Chignecto.  Here, you'll find miles and miles of wilderness coastline on the shores of the Bay of Fundy and some of the largest remaining intact forests in the province.  If you're lucky, you may also spot a mainland moose, which is an endangered species in Nova Scotia.

The Nova Scotia government has promised to protect Chignecto by creating a "large" protected wilderness area on these public lands, but so far has not yet released a proposed boundary for the protected area.  What's left outside of the boundary will likely be clearcut.

To find out more about Chignecto and how you can help protect this amazing place, check out:

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