Storm surges eroding P.E.I.

Dave Stewart
Published on April 17, 2012
Cliffs in Caven dish take a pounding from the heavy surf.
Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Ten thousand years ago you would have been able to walk from P.E.I. to New Brunswick without the need for a ferry or a bridge.

Ten thousand years from now and there may not be much left of Prince Edward Island to walk on.

Prince Edward Island is slowly eroding but the rate of erosion has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.

While erosion is a fact of life on land surrounded by water it is the intensity of storm surges that is taking its toll on the province now.

Such was the news Tuesday at the Atlantic Regional Adaptation Collaborative on Climate Change, hosted by UPEI.

From 1968 to 2010, an average of 28 centimetres of coastline is disappearing around the Island but between 2000 and 2010 the rate of erosion has risen to 40 centimetres.

Combine that with a rising sea level — it’s up 30 centimetres since 1911 — and it creates a recipe of concern for the next 40 to 100 years.

Erin Taylor, with the P.E.I. Department of Environment, says the data is key for Island decision makers.

“There are definitely places we need to look at,’’ Taylor told The Guardian. “Can (infrastructure) be more setback? Is it needed at all. We can make better fiscally-responsible decisions on what we do and what we repair.’’

Tim Webster, Nova Scotia Community College, and Carl Brydon, GeoNet Technologies Inc., classified West Pont as very susceptible to erosion, pointing out that it is disappearing 30 centimetres per year.

Webster and Bryon also mentioned that while the north shore gets a lot of focus when it comes to erosion, it also recovers quicker, minus storm surge damage.

Taylor said between 2001 and 2100 the Island will lose 100 centimetres of its coastline, a staggering number for a province surrounded by 3,300 kilometres of shore.

Taylor used a slideshow of maps to show the effect of erosion and storm surges. In North Rustico, for example, Fishermen’s Wharf and the fire department could be completely flooded by 2050. The ferry wharf in Souris could also be a victim to surges by then.

In Charlottetown, a significant weather event could pose issues for the provincial government offices based on data presented on Tuesday.

Don Jardine, with DE Jardine Consulting, said Jacques Cartier Park, five kilometers east of Alberton, is being eroded by 2.1 metres per year.

When the Town of Souris nearly watched as its causeway was wiped out by a storm surge, the local wildlife federation established a sand nourishment program to help build up sand and protect the causeway.

Storm surges aren’t a new phenomenon to P.E.I., even they are occurring repeatedly.  In 1923, a catastrophic storm wiped out the four large dunes at Greenwich National Park. The dunes have since reestablished themselves.

Jardine said there are things Islanders can do, such as reporting high-water events.

“It’s a little hard (to keep track of these things) when you sit in an office in Charlottetown,’’ he said.

Jardine also suggested reporting any significant damage, marking high-water events when they occur (perhaps with a stake) or volunteering to help maintain and operate a local tide gauge.