Coastal communities along P.E.I.'s North Shore need to prepare themselves for the impacts from climate change, a watershed management group was told Tuesday night.

'People living around the coast are noticing big changes.' — Erin Taylor, climate change coordinator

About two dozen residents gathered at the North Rustico Lions Club to hear a panel of experts discuss how climate change will hit North Shore communities.

Flooding from storm surges, a combination of high tides and water driven on shore by strong winds, was a major focus of the meeting.

"We're going to see bigger storm surges and they're going to occur more frequently," said Erin Taylor, climate change coordinator for the provincial Department of Environment.

Taylor said storm surges like the one the North Shore saw on Dec. 21, in the 3.6-metre range, currently come about once every 20 years. By the 2050s, they are expected to happen once every two years.

"I think with some of the recent storms we have had people living around the coast are noticing big changes in erosion," said Taylor.

"They've seen flooding in areas perhaps they haven't seen flooding before, and we heard that tonight. So those are some of the issues that they're dealing with."   The encroaching sea is also affecting local wells, with salt water creeping in.

Jim Newson, who operates an organic farm and bed and breakfast in New Glasgow, said he's worried about how his property will stand up to more storm surges and soil erosion in the future.

"I do have a bank that's fairly high, 20 to 30 feet. And at the bottom of that bank there's some of the actual bank that's eroding away," said Newson.

"It's a concern."

Research is underway at the Department of the Environment to help prepare coastal communities for the impacts of climate change. It's currently collecting data to project which communities will be most at risk of bearing the brunt of future storm surges. Those findings will be released next year.