Rising sea levels swallowing up Lennox Island

Eric McCarthy newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on January 31, 2016

David Haley scours the shoreline in front of his Lennox Island home. It's just a few metres from Malpeque Bay and, like many properties on Lennox Island, could be threatened by the next big storm surge.

©TC MEDIA/Eric McCarthy

David Haley estimates Lennox Island comprised of 1,300 acres back in 1973, now down to about 1,100 acres

LENNOX ISLAND – David Haley estimates Lennox Island was comprised of about 1,300 acres the first time he visited the First Nation community back in 1973.

Back then, he was one of the first people to drive across the community's brand new causeway, its first permanent link to mainland Prince Edward Island.

Like the First Nation's landmass, now down to about 1,100 acres, that permanent link is being threatened by the gradual increases in sea level and the potential of ever-worsening storm surges.

A storm surge in 2010 stopped just short of wiping out that link. Extensive repairs had to be carried out along the P.E.I. approach to the bridge.

Haley said the causeway on each side of the bridge will need to be reinforced before another storm surge causes even more damage.

"Eventually, they're going to have to replace it," he said, noting the vital connection is probably the piece of Lennox Island infrastructure most vulnerable to rising seas.

Randy Angus, director of integrated resource management with the Mi'Kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., agrees. He co-ordinated a three-year program by the MCPEI, which looked into the vulnerability of the Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nations.

Lennox Island, being a low-lying island, is the most vulnerable, he noted.

A 2.5-metre storm surge would flood the existing causeway on both sides of the bridge. That same surge, Haley said, would push the waters some 400 metres inland from the causeway.

On the other side of Lennox Island, facing Bird Island, Haley's back step of his home is only a few precious metres of real estate away from Malpeque Bay's high-water mark. One powerful surge, with the wind pushing it towards him, could bring the tide in his back door. 

It's not as simple as picking up and moving further inland on an island as small as Lennox Island, let alone considering 70 per cent of the landmass is a peat bog. The First Nation has acquired a small parcel of land across the bridge that, some time down the road, could be the making of a new community.

While Lennox Island is taking the threat of rising sea levels seriously and planning for it, Haley wonders if P.E.I. in general is as in tune with nature.

"If they were taking it seriously, they wouldn't be building the way they're building, especially along the coast," he said. "It's great to have a home overlooking the water; it's not so great to have a home overlooking the water as it's coming in your front door.

"That's what's going to happen."