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Lennox Island Losing Land To Climate Change, Coastal Erosion

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LENNOX ISLAND, P.E.I. — Back when he was in his 20s, Dave Haley often watched from his kitchen window as children played baseball in the field behind his home. But now at the age of 65, less than 20 feet of soil remains between his tidy green bungalow and the glistening waters of Malpeque Bay.

Lennox Island — off the northwest coast of Prince Edward Island — is in a battle with the sea, and the sea is winning.

"It's devastating. This is our home,'' Haley said.

Lennox Island — like the rest of Prince Edward Island — is vulnerable to coastal erosion because it's made of sand and sandstone. There is no hard bedrock.

lennox islandDave Haley displays a map from the University of Prince Edward Island's climate research lab, showing sea level rise in Lennox Island, P.E.I. (Photo: CP)

"Sea levels have been rising over the last 100 years and the land itself is lowering a little bit,'' said Adam Fenech, director of the climate research lab at the University of Prince Edward Island.

"There has been a 10 to 20 per cent increase in the number and magnitude of storms. And there has been a loss of ice cover, primarily in the months where we do seem to have some storm surges, which is in December and January,'' he said.

Fenech said Lennox Island isn't the only low-lying area of the province, but the amount of land loss has been significant.

He said according to Meachums Atlas of 1880, Lennox Island was 1,520 acres in size. By 2010 it was down to just 1,240 acres.

"Most of it lies just a metre or two above sea level, therefore it is particularly vulnerable to flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges,'' he said.

'We'll do what we have to'

Lennox Island has just 118 homes and a population of 475 people — members of the Lennox Island First Nation.

"We are on a small, finite island. We have infrastructure that needs protecting,'' said Chief Matilda Ramjattan.

She said most people on the island don't talk about the rising waters, but realize that homes should not be built in some areas because of ground saturation.

Ramjattan said she has hope that someone will find a way to protect the land they still have.

"This is our home. We're a resilient people. We'll do what we have to,'' she said.

lennox island first nationThe water tower is seen in Lennox Island, P.E.I., April 25, 2016. (Photo: CP)

Todd Dupuis, executive director of the Department of Communities, Land and Environment for P.E.I., said the province is losing land at a faster rate than just a few years ago.

"We're seeing the effects of climate change. The planet is warming and as a result the sea level is rising. We're seeing more extreme weather events. Bigger storms, more frequent storms. We're seeing less ice cover which is very important for the protection of the shoreline,'' Dupuis said.

Dupuis said communities and the provincial government are trying to adapt to the rising water levels and erosion by doing a cost-benefit analysis. He said they need to determine the cost of trying to protect homes, cottages and other infrastructure.

"In some cases it makes sense to provide some protection from climate change but in other cases it makes more sense to pull up stakes and move your assets to a higher and drier area,'' he said.

"It works for a while, but nature has a way of embarrassing us. The sea wins eventually."

In recent years, a sea wall was built to protect the lighthouse at Point Prim in southeastern P.E.I., while at nearby Cape Bear the decision was made to move the lighthouse inland by about 35 metres.

Fenech said the government recognizes the problem and has time to plan appropriately. He said it makes sense to start planning for roads and other infrastructure further from the shore.

He said that without any hard stone on Prince Edward Island, it doesn't make sense to try to build expensive armouring in an effort to protect the shoreline.

"It works for a while, but nature has a way of embarrassing us. The sea wins eventually,'' Fenech said.

lennox islandDave Haley says he's staying put as long as possible. (Photo: CP)

Forty per cent of civic addresses on Prince Edward Island are on the coastline. Dupuis said people want to be in sight of the water.

Lennox Island is flat and low. The school, band office and church - with its tall, yellow steeple - are at the high point of the island, but still are only metres above the waterline.

The band has acquired property on the mainland in case homes need to be moved.

Haley says he's staying put as long as possible, to enjoy his million-dollar view of Malpeque Bay.

"You take one day at a time,'' he said. "When the water reaches the front of the house then you're going to say, maybe we should look at this or look at that. But not until you're directly threatened is anyone really going to worry.''