Heavy ice moves away from P.E.I. but Coast Guard still busy

Heavy ice has moved away from Prince Edward Island but the Canadian Coast Guard is still staying busy in the region.

'It's changed quite dramatically over the last couple of weeks due to the wind'

This is the view from the icebreaker Edward Cornwallis on the way to P.E.I. The Coast Guard says ice conditions have improved around the Island itself but getting to the Island is still challenging. (Canadian Coast Guard)

Heavy ice has moved away from most of Prince Edward Island but the Canadian Coast Guard says it is still staying busy in the region.

"With the relentless westerly winds that we've been having over the last few weeks, all of the ice has basically pushed to the east," said Brad Durnford, superintendent of ice-breaking operations for Atlantic Canada.

"It's changed quite dramatically over the last couple of weeks due to the wind."

The Îles de la Madeleine ferry, which usually docks in Souris, P.E.I., was forced to change its route on March 6 because of heavy ice.

'Wall' of ice

The Canadian Coast Guard called in its heaviest icebreaker, the Louis St.-Laurent, to guide the ferry into the port in Souris, but even it couldn't break through the thick ice.

A ferry bound for P.E.I. had to wait for a Coast Guard icebreaker in early March 2019. (Canadian Coast Guard)

The vessel encountered what Durnford described as "a wall of tough, very thick, compacted ice". 

The ferry service finally resumed this week.

Durnford said the thick around P.E.I. has now moved out into the Cabot Strait and along the west coast of Newfoundland and that "conditions over there are very bad right now".

The Coast Guard called in its heaviest icebreaker, the Louis St.-Laurent, to guide the ferry into the port into Souris in early March, but the ice was too thick. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

There has been clearing to the north and east of P.E.I. but he said there is still a "fairly significant concentration of ice" between Cape Breton and P.E.I., but closer to Cape Breton. 

Durnford said a Coast Guard icebreaker was escorting a tanker towards P.E.I. Thursday and there is still some ice south of Charlottetown between P.E.I. and the mainland.

He said it's hard to predict when the waters around P.E.I. will be free of ice because a change in wind direction could push it all back toward the Island.

Another view from the Edward Cornwallis on its way to Charlottetown. (Canadian Coast Guard)

"If the wind was to go in a northeasterly direction for a prolonged period of time, a lot of the ice that's now in the centre of the Gulf would come back towards P.E.I.," Dunford said.

"The ice around the whole Gulf has been a quite the challenge. It's basically just moved from one area to another." 

Ice watch

Wayne Chiasson has been watching the ice conditions daily in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He's with the Port of Georgetown and is also involved in the fishing industry.

Durnford says the green shades are quite light ice. (Canadian Coast Guard)

"There was a lot of ice coverage three weeks ago," Chiasson said. 

"A lot of it is light ice and we're getting proper weather conditions and wind conditions to move the ice offshore over the next week or so."

He still recalls 2015 when the start of the lobster season was delayed because of the ice.

"2015 was the worst year, where we had the delay," Chiasson said.

"But we have six weeks to go before the start of lobster season. I think it all looks good." 

North shore normal

Meanwhile, Parks Canada reports that ice conditions are normal within P.E.I. National Park and no damage is currently visible. 

The ice is breaking up along P.E.I.'s north shore. This photo was taken March 20, 2019. (Annette Campbell)

A spokesperson says staff will do an assessment of the shoreline after the spring thaw to assess any erosion or other damage.

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog.


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