Government of Canada invests in conservation efforts at Sable Island National Park Reserve

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Parks Canada team member installing a trial exclosure fence in preparation for the Fences in the Sand research project on Sable Island National Park Reserve. Credit: Parks Canada (CNW Group/Parks Canada)

HALIFAX, NS, Feb. 4, 2021 – The Government of Canada is preserving our national parks, protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk. Sable Island National Park Reserve is an island of dynamic rolling sand dunes and is home to a wild horse population, the world’s largest breeding colony of grey seals, and other unique species, like the Sable Island sweat bee, that are found nowhere else on earth.

Today, Andy Fillmore, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and Member of Parliament for Halifax, on behalf of the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, announced a federal investment of $682,000 for a project to protect important habitats at Sable Island National Park Reserve and better understand the influence of the wild horses on its ecosystems.

With this funding, Parks Canada and the Sable Island Institute are launching a collaborative study, Fences in the Sand, where a series of small fenced areas will be installed to exclude horses from selected sites on the island to help provide new knowledge about Sable Island National Park Reserve. The project team will install nine fenced exclosures, each one hectare in size. Scientists will collect and analyze data to understand direct and/or indirect influences of horses on: dune processes (i.e. erosion), ecological integrity of freshwater ponds (including rare plants, water quality, and invertebrates), and rare species and their habitats (including Roseate terns, Ipswich Sparrows and rare or endemic insects).

Funded through Parks Canada’s Conservation and Restoration Program, the project will also support the development of interpretative material designed for virtual visitors so Canadians can learn more about the Fences in the Sand project and the importance of ecological integrity in managing national parks like Sable Island National Park Reserve.

Over the five-year duration of the project, Parks Canada and the Sable Island Institute will have implemented critical steps to build our understanding of this unique site so that all elements of the ecosystem, including the horses, can be effectively protected. These efforts will better inform the long-term management of Sable Island National Park Reserve’s natural and cultural heritage, while monitoring and implementing measures for protection in support of conservation.

“Nature is central to Canada’s culture, prosperity and way of life. Sable Island National Park Reserve is known for its wild horses, rich history and unique biodiversity. That’s why the Government of Canada is investing in critical research to better understand the ecological role the horses have on this dynamic ecosystem. Parks Canada and the Sable Island Institute will lead this significant work, while establishing education and outreach opportunities aimed at building connections for Canadians to this iconic national treasure.” stated Andy Fillmore
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and Member of Parliament for Halifax

Sable Island National Park Reserve was established in 2013 as Canada’s 43rd national park.
Sable Island is one of Canada’s furthest offshore islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean, with a rich human history stretching back to the 1500s, including shipwrecks, life-saving stations, and over a hundred years of weather monitoring.

The Island’s fascinating ecology includes wild horses, seals, over three hundred species of birds as well as the only known breeding location in the world for the Ipswich sparrow, and species of moths and other insects found nowhere else on the planet. A vibrant plant community, including some that have rare distribution elsewhere, grow on the rolling and dynamic dunes that make up one of the largest dune systems in Eastern Canada.
The Sable Island Institute, with its deep and rich knowledge of the ecology of this island and connections to the research community, will lead the data collection, data analysis, project coordination and liaison with researchers from academia and beyond.

Parks Canada is among the few national parks systems in the world that have a system-wide ecological integrity monitoring and reporting program, consisting of more than 700 scientific measures that inform park-specific priorities and guide restoration action.
The Government of Canada invests $15 million annually in Parks Canada’s Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) program to support high priority projects that make a difference on the ground in maintaining or restoring ecological integrity and helping in the recovery of species at risk.