Nova Scotia·Photos

The secret Caribbean vistas right off Nova Scotia's coast

A conservation photographer is sharing his images of a remote part of Nova Scotia's coastline that most people have never seen.

Nova Scotia Nature Trust lauds 100 Wild Islands as 'the most valuable islands you've never heard of'

An aerial view of Tombolo Beach, which connects Borgles Island and Middle Island. (Nick Hawkins)

A conservation photographer is sharing his images of a remote part of Nova Scotia's coastline that most people have never seen.

In its biggest fundraising endeavour to date, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust has raised more than $7 million to help protect 100 Wild Islands off the province's Eastern Shore.

It's said that the west-facing cliff of Shiprock Island was once used by vessels for cannonball practice. (Nick Hawkins)

The 282 islands are located between Clam Harbour and Mushaboom. They range in size from dozens of hectares to just small rocky outcrops that may be completely submerged at high tide.

The nature trust lauds the 100 Wild Islands as nationally significant and "the most valuable islands you've never heard of."

Photographer Nick Hawkins said some of the most spectacular images of the islands were taken underwater. (Nick Hawkins)

Nick Hawkins is a photojournalist specializing in natural history, science and conservation issues, and has worked all over the world. He recently got the chance to visit a dozen or so of the islands and is collaborating on a project with Canadian Geographic and Dalhousie University marine biologist Boris Worm.

"It probably would take a lifetime to visit them all," Hawkins said.

The 282 islands are located between Clam Harbour and Mushaboom. (Nick Hawkins)

Hawkins will give a public talk at the Halifax Central Library on Saturday and show some of his most spectacular images from the islands.

The islands are composed of 2,800 hectares of coastal wilderness.

"Everything from white sand beaches to bogs and wetlands — even have freshwater lakes on some of them. It really does encompass every habitat that can be found along the Eastern Shore," Hawkins said.

Sandy ridges lie under crystal clear water off Tombolo Beach. (Nick Hawkins)

He said his underwater images are especially stunning. 

"The water is crystal clear, you get visibility of up to 50 feet in some cases and the islands are in a very pristine state, almost unchanged since glaciers retreated from that area," he said. "It's really kind of like looking back at what this area would have looked like before any kind of human activities."

The waters off the islands are teeming with life. (Nick Hawkins)

Many people are surprised to learn there are Caribbean-like vistas here in the Maritimes.

"You get responses like, 'Wow, you know I never thought that that was here in Nova Scotia,'" Hawkins said.

"I think that's when I feel like I've really done my job as a photographer, when they get to see something or experience something that perhaps has been in their backyard this entire time and they're just seeing it for the first time now." 

The islands are home to many species, including piping plovers. (Nick Hawkins)

Others ask Hawkins to keep these little-known places secret so people don't ruin them.

"I've had a few emails saying things like, 'Yes, our beaches are beautiful but stop showing them to people,'" he said. 

"I certainly can understand that sentiment, but the reality is that these places aren't going to go unnoticed forever and it's important that we're aware of them, and we can move forward in a way that protects them and keeps them for future generations."

Nova Scotia or Caribbean paradise? The blue-green waters off the islands are surprisingly clear. (Nick Hawkins)

Bonnie Sutherland from the Nova Scotia Nature Trust said there is still work to be done.

The organization understands the tourism potential of the area, she said, and there's work underway to look at ecotourism opportunities while at the same time not destroy the unique wilderness. 

"Part of that might be more trails and opportunities to actually experience the islands, because some of them are quite inaccessible," she said.

"How do we allow people to explore this magical place in a sensitive way and without destroying what we all love about the islands."

Lobster are among the invertebrates found off the islands. (Nick Hawkins)

Hawkins will be giving the keynote speech at the Sustainable Oceans Conference 2017 on Saturday. It's scheduled to start around 2:30 p.m. at the Halifax Central Library's Paul O'Regan Hall. 

You can see more of Hawkins's work on his website, as well as on Twitter and Instagram

With files from Mainstreet