Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest province, and it’s getting smaller. A recent storm has once again highlighted the plight of PEI. It is a low-lying sand and sandstone island in the Gulf of St Lawrence and as the climate has been changing in the past few years the erosion from the sea has been accelerating.
The island has several dozen historic lighthouses, many of which are now threatened with falling into the sea. At least one of them has had to be moved back twice in the past couple of decades.
‘I was absolutely shocked,’ says Carol Livingstone, at the eroding shoreline at the West Point lighthouse after storms in late November.
She is the vice-president of the P.E.I. Lighthouse Society, and says reinforcement of the eroding bank protecting the West Point lighthouse needs to happen quickly, before spring. “If something isn’t done, our lighthouse will be undermined”, she says.
With climate change storms in Gulf are more frequent and more violent. The concern is sea level rise combined with storm surge the erosion of the coastline has become greater. This is a concern throughout the maritimes but especially the “soft” coastline of P.E.I.
In winter, sea ice along the coast has given protection to the shore from the severe winter storms. With climate change there has been less ice, and for a shorter period, meaning the shore is exposed for longer periods.
The small aboriginal community on Lennox Island in P.E.I. is another example of concern. The little island is only about four metres above sea level and is eroding even faster than other areas.
The little island is losing about a hectare of land per year says Adam Fenech, director of the climate lab at the University of Prince Edward Island.
One solution is to ‘armour’ threatened land with large rocks, but as PEI has none, they have to be brought in from elsewhere off-island at great expense. Some barriers put up in the past, have already been washed away by increasing strong storms.
The provincial government is now looking at limiting or preventing development around certain coastal regions. A study showed that at current rates of erosion, over 1,000 homes as well as several barns and garages, seventeen lighthouses, 150 commercial operations, several waste water treatment ponds, about 50 kilometers of roads, and at least one wind turbine all will be threatened over the next several dozen years.
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