EAC comments on Sable Island Designation

To:      Doug Harvey, Parks Canada
From: Mark Butler, Ecology Action Centre
Date:  August 15th, 2010
Re:     Designation of Sable Island as National Park

The EAC would like to provide some general comments on the designation of Sable Island as a national park. We look forward to providing more detailed comments in the next phase of consultations.

The Ecology Action Centre welcomes the designation of Sable Island as a national park. The EAC has worked with the Green Horse Society and other groups and individuals for the last seven years to ensure that the federal and provincial governments protect Sable Island and maintain the Sable Island Station. We believe that a year-round human presence on the Island is key to protecting the Island’s ecology as well as protecting its cultural heritage. In addition, without a year-round human presence it would be difficult or impossible for researchers to maintain the valuable research programs on the Island.

In our determination, Parks Canada is well equipped to take over stewardship of the Island and carry out the duties that come with such a responsibility including protecting the flora and fauna of the Island, running the Station on a year round basis, providing a platform for research efforts, and helping Canadians get to know and cherish the Island. In placing our trust in Parks Canada we would expect that the agency would always put its mandate to protect and conserve above that of its mandate to educate and interpret and would always insulate the Island from other government agencies with different priorities and from commercial interests.

Interpretation and Education

We welcome efforts to allow Canadians to get to know Sable Island better. Parks Canada needs to determine the number of visitors and facilities that the Island can sustain. In our view, the number of visits and facilities should not be expanded much beyond current numbers, particularly the size and nature of the facilities.

The focus or emphasis should be on allowing more people to visit the Island via the web or through interpretative centres on the mainland. The main interpretative centre should likely be in Halifax but consideration should be given to adding to existing museum/interpretative facilities in Guysborough County or Cape Breton. The Ecology Action Centre has been involved in saving the Charles Morris building in downtown Halifax. The Centre would welcome the views of Parks Canada and provincial agencies in incorporating this building into a Sable Island visitor centre.

As many Canadians will not be able to visit Sable Island because of the cost, logistical challenges and caps on the number of visitors, Parks Canada might consider some sort of lottery which would allow a small number of Canadians (<5) to visit the Island for a day courtesy of Parks Canada.

Oil and Gas

The EAC opposes oil and gas activities on Sable Island including seismic. We would encourage licence holders to relinquish any existing licences on Sable Island.  In addition, oil and gas activities should be kept as far away as possible from Sable Island both to reduce the impacts of pollution on the Island and to protect the integrity of the visitor experience. The federal and provincial government should expand the current 1 nautical mile exclusion zone and put it into law. Parks Canada should not make any arrangement regarding sub-surface petroleum rights for Sable Island which would set a bad precedent for other national parks in Canada.

Seals

In general, the EAC is not opposed to a seal hunt (killing seals for personal or commercial use), but opposes a cull (killing seals so as to reduce their impact on fish stocks or fishing activities) and would not support a cull on Sable Island. A large scale cull would likely have negative impacts on the ecology of Sable Island and would be unsustainable in other ways.

The EAC in its fisheries work has called for a thorough examination and discussion of what impact the steep decline in the seals’ main predator, sharks, has had on grey seal populations. Shark populations have dropped dramatically in the last 50 years because of overfishing.

It should be noted that while the grey seal population on Sable Island has been increasing, the harbour seal population has been decreasing, potentially due to competition with grey seals.

Next Steps

The EAC welcomes further and more detailed consultations on the future of Sable Island as a national park. We would hope that the consultations might extend beyond Halifax to a couple of other locations in Nova Scotia and possibly Canada. EAC staff are always available to meet with the Minister, senior staff and the Sable Island team. We look forward to a constructive and mutually respectful designation process.

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