Sea level surge changing coastal P.E.I.

Steve Sharratt
Published on July 25, 2014

Andrew Doiron, left, CLIVE developer, and Adam Fenech demonstrate the Coastal Impacts Visualization Environment tool. It allows users to manipulate a 3-D map of Prince Edward Island with a video game controller to simulate erosion and sea-level rise over the next 90 years.

©THE GUARDIAN/Steve Sharratt

MONTAGUE — Back in 1959 it was prime waterfront property and at $15 an acre, a bargain to boot.

But those three lovely acres in Savage Harbour snapped up by Emmett McKenna are gone.

They once offered a lovely north shore view — now they’re under water. The family had to move the cottage back when rising sea levels claimed Pigot’s Point, but McKenna still pays the $1 tax every year — just in case it comes back.


Prince Edward Island is slowly disappearing, parts of it anyway, and the UPEI Climate Research Lab demonstrated at a recent public meeting here just how climate change and rising sea levels are affecting the Garden of the Gulf.

Adam Fenech says the Island will still be around centuries from now, but certain parts are particularly vulnerable and it’s best to know the future affects as a way of addressing protection strategies.

“Some people say build a moat around the province and others say let nature take its course,’’ he told the public meeting here. “Well it looks like Mother Nature will take her course and we need to prepare.”

Fenech has been taking his message Island wide with a series of public meetings. And he’s been espousing that low lying areas and homes too close to the cliff edge will be in trouble.

It’s estimated the sea level has risen a foot in the past century and in the next 100 years will climb by a metre. Fenech and his team use a video display unit called CLIVE (Coastal Impact Visualization Environment) tool. It allows users to manipulate a 3-D map of the province with a video game controller and experience simulated erosion and sea level rise impact over the next 90 years.

Montague is relatively safe, being further away from forceful wave action of the sea, but more exposed ports like Georgetown and Souris will face issues. The Kings County capital will likely see its current sewage lagoon overrun by the ocean and the Souris causeway will be a goner.

“Our estimates are conservative,” he told the crowd. “There are others in our field who would predict even faster and greater change.”

It’s estimated more than 1,000 Island homes and a dozen lighthouses will be affected — even a wind turbine in West Cape.

“We’ve already lost about 5,000 acres of land which is about the size of Charlottetown,’’ he said. “And if there is anyone who believes in climate change, it’s the farmers and fishermen ... they see it.”

Fenech said serious storms are battering the sandstone province and the lack of winter sea ice causes even greater damage. He also said storm waves up to 20 feet will continue to distress the land mass.

It won’t happen overnight, but in the days to come CLIVE indicated that Islanders can say farewell to the causeway at Panmure Island and the marshalling yard for the Wood Islands ferry terminal. They will be consumed by water and the Wood Islands lighthouse could become an island.

“It means we might need to build the Souris bridge higher or change the ferry terminal to continue operations,’’ he said. “But these projections can help us deal with the change.”

A display of photographs by consultant Don Jardine, under contract with the Climate Change Centre, depicts the devastation of storms that have hit the province particularly in the past five years. That kind of damage has prompted some waterfront owners to “armour” their shorelines — which is not recommended — while the P.E.I. National Park is allowing nature to takes its course.

When the dunes at Panmure Island were washed away after being battered by a devastating storm in 2010, the government spent an estimated $2 million hauling in granite from Nova Scotia to rebuild the beachfront. The next major storm washed much of it away.

Fenech said in the next 50 years Island temperatures could rise by five degrees which would allow farmers to grow high-end crops, would increase the influx of different birds and wildlife and could lead to an increase in tourism.

“Climate change is usually slow but you always get surprises,” he said. “And remember, our predictions are the cautious approach ... other colleagues say it will come much faster.”


Southeast locales facing a possible underwater grave according to CLIVE:

- the causeway at Panmure Island and Souris;

- Wood Islands ferry marshalling yard;

- Georgetown sewage lagoon;

- Big Point;

- Poxy Island.