CPAWS welcomes Sable Island National Park Reserve

HALIFAX – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) welcomes the protection of Sable Island as a national park reserve.  The legislation to create the national park reserve becomes law today.

“This is an important step for the protection of Sable Island’s unique ecosystems,” says Chris Miller, National Conservation Biologist for CPAWS, based in Nova Scotia. “Sable Island holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many Canadians and is deserving of the highest level of protection that can be afforded.”

Sable Island is an offshore sand island located approximately 200km off the coast of Nova Scotia, in the North Atlantic Ocean on the edge of the continental shelf.  The island is famous for its population of wild horses, which have been on the island for hundreds of years, but it is also significant for other conservation values, including the largest sand dunes in eastern North America, the only breeding location in the world for the Ipswich savannah sparrow, the largest breeding colony of grey seals in the world, several species-at-risk such as the roseate tern, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna.  Sable Island also has a rich cultural history as well, including a well-known history of shipwrecks, and is an important location for on-going scientific research.

“The protection of Sable Island as a national park reserve is a huge improvement over the status quo,” says Alison Woodley, National Director of CPAWS' Parks Program. “It will lead to much stronger habitat protections for the flora and fauna of the island than currently exists”.

Sable Island will become Canada’s 43rd national park and is the third national park established in Nova Scotia.

CPAWS remains concerned about the prospect of oil and gas exploration occurring on Sable Island.  Because the Offshore Accord Implementation Acts take precedence over the National Parks Act, due to a paramountancy clause in the legislation, a special circumstance exists for Sable where some oil and gas activities could still be allowed to occur in the national park.

“There shouldn’t be any oil and gas exploration or development activity on Sable Island, period,” says Miller. “CPAWS will be working hard to ensure that directives are established that will protect the island from these activities.”

The legislation that created the national park reserve for Sable Island does enshrine an existing policy ban on oil and gas drilling from the surface in law and attempts to limit oil and gas exploration activities on the surface of the island to only those that are deemed “low impact”.

CPAWS encourages Parks Canada to begin the process of developing a strong and effective park management plan for the island, which protects ecological integrity as a first priority.  This should include limiting the number of visitors allowed to set foot on Sable Island each year to near current levels and focus the development of visitor experiences primarily off-island.  This could include establishing a state-of-the-art Sable Island pavilion in downtown Halifax where people can go to learn about this unique island and its treasured history without having to set foot on the island itself.  We also encourage Parks Canada to develop virtual visitor experiences as well.

“The focus of visitation needs to be off-island,” says Miller.  “It is much better to bring Sable Island to the people than people to Sable Island”.

CPAWS would like to thank both the Federal and Provincial governments for protecting Sable Island as a national park.  We note the incredible amount of non-partisan support in moving the legislation forward and investigating how best to conserve the ecosystems on the island.  Many people have worked long hours to ensure that the national park was established.

We especially want to thank Zoe Lucas, long-time researcher and resident of Sable Island, who has fought tirelessly and passionately for many years to ensure this island remained in the public eye and was properly protected for generations to come.


Contact info:

Chris Miller, Ph.D.
National Conservation Biologist
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society