Sable Island may soon become a national park. ((CBC))

Sable Island in Nova Scotia may soon be named a national park, ensuring the protection of its fragile ecology, the federal government announced Tuesday.

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the process to make the ecologically sensitive spit of land in the North Atlantic a national park will begin next month with public consultations.

The island, about 300 kilometres southeast of Nova Scotia, is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, because it is ringed by 300 years of ship wrecks. At least 223 ships are known to have wrecked off the island.

Sable Island is also home to about 400 wild horses, descendants of animals brought to the island during the late 1700s.

The island is also a breeding ground for seals and birds, including the endangered Ipswich sparrow.

It is a fragile habitat, and Prentice said making the 40-kilometre strip of sand dunes a national park will give it the protection it needs.

"By having Sable Island designated as a national park, we have the greatest protection possible," he said in Ottawa. 

"The way in which the park is managed will be the subject of consultation as we develop the management plan. We'll be working very closely with Nova Scotia, and with other Canadians as well, to develop those plans to make sure that this ecological treasure is protected according to the highest possible standard."

Discussions will begin next month with advocacy groups that want to help shape the rules for managing Canada's newest national park.

Mark Butler, of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, supports making the island a national park.

"Making it a national park is the best choice. It brings the resources and experience of Parks Canada to managing the island. Of course, what is crucial is the management plan and the limitations we put on activities on the island," he said.

Butler said the number of visitors to the island must be restricted.

"We really do have to limit the number of people who visit the island, and the infrastructure that is going to accommodate them. Obviously, no wharves, no airport and no five-star hotels," he said.

Chris Miller, of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, agreed visitors should be limited.

"You can put limits on the numbers of visitors that actually visit the island, and put strict conditions on where they can go when they're there. We would certainly like to see the strongest possible management framework put in place to protect the island and that includes limiting visitation," he said.

Blogger Parker Donham, a former journalist, said he will be at the public consultations to voice his concern over the island's designation as a national park.

"There are some places in the world that should not be developed, and a national park is a form of development. There are discussions about having campsites on Sable Island. I just think that is a bad idea," Donham said.

Marge Blunden, who sailed her boat to Sable Island two years ago, thinks others should be able to have the experience of a lifetime. 

"It was magical," she said Tuesday.

"If a national park means that people can go like we did on small boats, or in small groups, and really appreciate that this is a pristine place and you're not to leave anything behind, then, yes, it could be a national park."


  • It was incorrectly reported that the ancestry of the wild horses on Sable Island can be traced back to some of the 223 ships known to have wrecked off the island. In fact, they were brought to the island in the 1700s.
    May 18, 2010 11:10 PM AT