Nova Scotia

Ottawa to fund cleanup of buildings, debris on iconic Sable Island

Ottawa announced $3.4 million Monday to remove surplus buildings and other debris from Sable Island National Park Reserve.

Project to include energy measures to reduce fossil fuel consumption

Ottawa announced funding to remove debris from Sable Island, a sandbar off the coast of Nova Scotia known for its wild horses and grey seals. (Alison DeLory)

Sable Island — the windswept sandbar off Nova Scotia famous for its wild horses and the world's largest breeding colony of grey seals — is getting federal money for a cleanup.

Ottawa announced $3.4 million Monday to remove surplus buildings and other debris from Sable Island National Park Reserve, and to design energy measures to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

The island has a centuries-long history of human inhabitants, and evidence of that history — such as unused buildings and debris, including hazardous debris — remain on the isolated island, posing a risk to its sensitive ecosystems.

Nova Scotia MP Sean Fraser, parliamentary secretary to the federal environment minister, says the project will help preserve the 42-kilometre-long island for future generations.

Harbour seals on Sable Island, N.S. (Submitted by Pierre-Yves Daoust)

Dubbed the Graveyard of the Atlantic, some 350 vessels have wrecked on the island's shores and hidden reefs since the mid-1700s.

It is home to hundreds of namesake horses, which have roamed there since the 18th century and become synonymous with its romantic and untamed image.

Situated about 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax in the North Atlantic, it has a weather station, two light stations, an airstrip and a few buildings used mainly by researchers. Canada's first life-saving station was built there in 1801.

"Sable Island National Park Reserve is a unique place that is special to many people in Nova Scotia and across the country," Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, whose riding includes Sable Island, said in a statement.

The harsh conditions and extreme isolation of Sable Island forced Ottawa to abandon a wind project two years ago.

Environment Canada launched the pilot project in 2000 — which would have seen five wind turbines generate energy onto the grid of the island, also known for its shifting sand dunes and fragile environment.

But when Parks Canada took over management of the island when it became a national park reserve in 2013, the wind turbines were not functioning.

The department has said the project faced several delays due to the environmental sensitivity of the site and wildlife concerns, and technical problems continued due to the harsh conditions and the inability to adapt the technology to the operations of the other infrastructure at the site.

The project was halted. The department noted it had been chosen based on the renewable energy technology that existed at that time, and there had been considerable advancements since then.

In December, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board launched a competitive bidding process for two exploration licences to probe for fossil fuels in the shallow waters encircling Sable Island, prompting swift condemnation from a coalition of environmental, fishing and tourism groups.