Sable Island Announcement Greeted with Hope, Caution

The Honourable Jim Prentice, Canada’s Environment Minister and Minister Responsible for Parks Canada, and the Honourable John MacDonell, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Natural Resources, announced earlier this week that Sable Island will soon be designated a National Park or National Wildlife Area. Both governments have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they outline their roles for the coming year in order to protect Sable Island.

Sable Island, a narrow 40 km strip, is located approximately 300 km offshore from Halifax and is home to various wildlife species – from wild horses to migratory birds. According to Parks Canada it is also home to ‘virtually the world’s entire population of vulnerable Ispwich Savannah Sparrow.’

An existing migratory bird sanctuary protects birds and their nests on the island but affords little protection to bird habitat. Find out more about Sable Island and other important bird habitats like it by visiting the national Important Birds Areas website at

Nature Canada supports this joint government action to increase habitat protection for marine mammals, seabird colonies and species at risk, including the Ipswich Sparrow and the Roseate Tern.

However, we caution that a national park or wildlife area could open the island to public access and may increase the risks of erosion and habitat degradation on the island’s fragile 23 square kilometre coastal dune ecosystems. Currently, the few human inhabitants of Sable Island conduct research or environmental monitoring.

While either protected area designation would significantly improve habitat protection on the island, the government must ensure it limits human impacts on the island’s ecosystems.

Designating Sable Island as Protected Area should be noted as one of Canada’s achievements for the International Year of Biodiversity.