Sable Island – The Graveyard of the Atlantic

image of sandy sharkey

Sandy Sharkey – Photographer

 This blog is written by Women for Nature Member Sandy Sharkey. 

‘It is far better to experience a place just once than to hear about it a thousand times’ ~ Mongolian saying

Sable Island. ‘The graveyard of the sea’. So steeped in Canadian lore that when I was a kid, I didn’t think Sable Island actually existed.

An Ipswich Sparrow by Sandy Sharkey.

An Ipswich Sparrow by Sandy Sharkey.

On my eighth birthday, I unwrapped a book about Sable Island. Page after page offered grainy black and white photos of shipwrecks, sky high sand dunes and fierce ocean swells bundled with tales of human struggle.  But, it was the Sable Island horses that really caught my attention. Manes flowing in the wind, stallions clashing with each other atop seaside cliffs, herds thundering through the surf. This was the stuff of fiction.

But of course, Sable Island exists. The stories of the shipwrecks, the sand dunes, the horses. All true. Like so many Canadians, it became my lifelong dream to visit this magical and mystical slice of geography.

Three hundred kilometres east of Halifax in the Atlantic Ocean, Sable Island sits in the path of some of the most treacherous currents in the world. The island’s ‘smile’ shape belies its historical moniker, ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’, with over three hundred and fifty ships known to have perished off Sable’s sandy shores.

Home to just a handful of meteorologists, scientific researchers, and Parks Canada staff, Sable Island is an irresistible dream for a nature lover. Sand dunes shelter the island’s interior where grassy fields and freshwater ponds teem with life. Over three hundred and fifty species of birds have been recorded on the island. It also supports the world’s largest breeding colony of fifty thousand grey seals. But, if there was a Sable Island wildlife popularity contest, the iconic wild horses would win hands down.

Image of horses on a sand dune

Horses on Sable Island. By Sandy Sharkey

The ever-shifting sands, fog, and unpredictable ocean swells have always made getting to Sable Island difficult, but that would change.

In December 2013, the Canadian government officially declared Sable Island as Canada’s forty-third National Park Reserve.  Known for leading expeditions to the arctic, Canadian company ‘Adventure Canada’ was chosen to bring travellers to the land of horses and seals.  This past June, my husband Rob and I joined enthusiastic adventurers and nature lovers aboard the ship Ocean Endeavour, and under sunny skies we sailed out of St John’s harbour, past a postcard iceberg, and out to sea for our final destination. As we sailed the Atlantic Ocean over the next thirty-six hours we were treated to enlightening presentations by scientists, writers, and photographers. Topics included climate, wildlife and survival on the island.

Sandy’s story continues here

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