04/30/2012 08:10 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Sable Island contamination studied

Heavy metals and chemicals pollute the sandy island off Nova Scotia that's home to wild ponies and seals — one of Canada's newest national parks.

Sable Island is about 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax. The 42-kilometre-long spit of sand is ringed by 300 years of shipwrecks, earning it the name Graveyard of the Atlantic.

As Parks Canada develops a site management plan, it's also dealing with the toxic legacy left behind by previous visitors.

"Sable Island has a long history of human occupation, and so there's been a number of activities there over the years and there's some legacy of that use on the island," spokeswoman Julie Tompa told CBC News.

Surveys have identified 10 contaminated sites. The soil and groundwater in some areas is tainted with heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, benzene and other chemicals.

"There's a number of areas that are a potential environmental concern," Tompa said.

Two of the sites are considered a high priority for cleanup.

Remedial and management plans for the worst sites are expected to be in place for 2014, according to Treasury Board of Canada documents.

Fewer than 250 people visit Sable Island every year. But that number is expected to jump now that the island is a national park.

In the meantime, Sable Island remains an isolated home to a few hundred ponies, thousands of seals and the rare Ipswich sparrow.