This week: the 10th Annual Sable Island Update


If you are near Halifax this week, consider taking in the 10th annual (well, almost annual) Sable Island Update organized by the naturalist and longtime Sable resident Zoe Lucas. After a year’s hiatus, Lucas returns to Saint Mary’s University this Wednesday evening with what looks to be a great lineup of illustrated talks on the most beguiling real estate in Nova Scotia.

  • Parks Canada Senior Archaeologist Charles Burke will present the results of the first-ever archaeological survey of human artifacts on the island, including its notorious shipwrecks and sporadic attempts at human settlement dating back to the 16th century. Burke will also discuss the difficulty of preserving archaeological resources in a place where weather, waves, and the relentless migration of sand dunes obliterate them.
  • Brenna McLeod Frasier, research associate with the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History and the Canadian Whale Institute, will discuss the large herds of walrus that populated the shorelines of Nova Scotia until the late 1700s, when hunters seeking tusks, hide, and blubber extirpated them. Her analysis of DNA, and the morphology of ancient walrus bones collected on Sable and elsewhere in the region, has established the Maritimes walrus as a group distinctive from today’s Atlantic walrus. She will review the history of our walrus, and possible explanations for its unique characteristics.
  • Saint Mary’s University biologist and forensic scientist Timothy Frasier will describe the social lives of Sable horses, focusing on the dispersal patterns of males and females as they move away from their home range upon reaching sexual maturity.
  • A highlight of the Sable Island Updates is Lucas’s annual review of noteworthy occurrences on the island—weather events, beached materials, island activities and operations, and new records of plants and animals found on the island. Since there was no update last year, this year’s review will cover 2014 and 2015.

Missing from this year’s schedule is any sort of accountability session from Parks Canada, whose stewardship of the island got off to a bad start when Environment Minister Jim Prentice provoked outrage with inane remarks about the benefits of building private tourist facilities on Sable.

Parks Canada now has two years experience managing Sable, including the delicate task of deciding how many—and who—can visit. These annual updates would be the perfect place to present its developing policies to the island’s most fervent supporters, along with hard numbers on visits to the island—including private luxury tours. With the election of a federal government less hostile to science and more committed to open communications, perhaps Parks Canada will do better next year.

This year’s Sable Island Update runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 25, at the Theatre Auditorium of the McNally Building, Saint Mary’s University, 923 Robie St., Halifax. There is no admission charge. It’s wise to come early, as the room usually fills to capacity. For more information, see the complete program.

Wednesday’s meeting is supported by Friends of the Green Horse Society and the Ecology Action Centre, and is co-hosted by Saint Mary’s University, the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and the Nova Scotian Institute of Science.