Summer for me, along with thousands of fellow Nova Scotians and tourists, consists of day trips along the South Shore. The South Shore of Nova Scotia is known for its pristine coastlines, amazing fish and chip shacks, colorful fishing communities and white sandy beaches.
I typically pack the kids up – I used to be able to grab a towel and go – get in the car, and drive until I find a beach that isn’t too crowded and we stay for the day. I am always on the hunt for the next secret beach or hidden gem to explore – Carter’s Beach in Port Mouton, driving on Crescent Beach in Lunenburg, Ward’s Falls in Parrsboro, the beautiful tiny fishing village called Blue Rocks, the rigorous hike to Amethyst Cove, and the infamous hidden treasure of Oak Island. While surfing through Instagram one night I came across a picture of a beautiful beach on the Eastern Shore in Nova Scotia, it resembled something you would find on a tropical island far far away. The beach was indeed on an island, and is part of the 100 Wild Islands of Nova Scotia. Swimming in the turquoise waters, with leatherback sea turtles, on a deserted island, in Nova Scotia, was going to be my next summer adventure!
The Eastern Shore, like the South Shore, is full of small fishing villages, spectacular views, and slightly rockier beaches and coastlines – specifically composed of shale and granite bedrock. Communities have settled here for hundreds of years for ship building, fishing and gold mining.
What is it about island life that fascinates us? Is it that the thought that escaping our busy lives to stand on a deserted island full of adventure, isolation, sandy beaches and crashing waves gives us a sense of freedom? The idea may conjure up daydreams of yourself on adventures like Ralph from Lord of the Flies or Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island – or maybe even you as the star in your own episode of Survivor! The 100 Wild Islands span 7,000 acres along the Eastern Shore coastline in Nova Scotia, from Clam Harbour Provincial Park to Taylor Head Provincial Park. To put that in perspective, that is over 5,300 football fields – an island lovers’ dream!
When I started digging deeper and began researching the 100 Wild Islands, I learned that the archipelago wasn’t just a bunch of beautiful islands, they were also enriched with unique ecosystems that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Canada. Even though I still wanted to get myself to the sandy beaches for a swim, the more I read the more captivated I became by these extraordinary islands and began to wonder how Eosense could study their ecosystems. The islands, for the most part, are protected by the Nature Trust so I immediately contacted them to get permission to bring a small group to the islands to do some non-invasive ecological tests.
While the islands have remained something of a secret treasure to the outside world – some of them haven’t been disturbed since the last ice age – local residents of the Eastern Shore have used their beautiful backyard archipelago for fishing and recreation for hundreds of years. The 100 Wild Islands are actually a collection of 282 islands and islets; they are called 100 Wild Islands because only 100 of them are over 100 acres. The Eastern shore is less settled than the South Shore and a lot less talked about. While it may have evaded the attention of tourists until now, knowledge of the islands is quickly spreading around the world as a top destination to visit!
The islands started off as a home to the Mi’kmaq people before the European Settlement. In the late 1700s, during European Settlement, the islands were resided on because of their coastline. They were used primarily for fishing, and foundations of these early fishing lodges are still on the islands today – wait until you see the inside! There was even a school on one of the islands, with a small population of 60 people – Gerard’s Island. Fishermen used the sheltered bays to brine and prepare their catches. There was a proposal for a “Ship Harbour National Park”; however, residents of the Eastern Shore did not want their area to be bulldozed and the coastline ecosystems destroyed, so the proposal never took off. In the 1980s some wealthy people from the United States got wind of this island paradise and wanted to put an air strip on one of the islands so it could serve as an exclusive vacation destination. More recently the community around the 100 Wild Islands had to ward off another threat – a salmon-pen farm that would have been disastrous to the sensitive coastline environments. Finally, in 2014 the Nature Trust launched the 100 Wild Islands Campaign to permanently protect the islands and their unique ecosystem and habitat. Today the Nature Trust protects 85% of the islands in partnership with the Province of Nova Scotia and private island owners. Together, they have raised over seven million dollars to fund the protection and increase public awareness of the islands and their value. With the islands becoming less of a hidden treasure, the need to protect them – through ecotourism – is more important now than ever.
The ecosystems found on the 100 Wild Islands are very diverse. Other than sheltered coves and rocky headlands, there are also many ancient boreal forests and a temperate rainforest on the islands. With over 400 acres of wetlands, salt marshes, bogs and barrens these islands are an ecologist’s dream playground. Some of the islands have freshwater lakes, and many of the coastal and forest ecosystems have exceptional opportunities for research and education! There is even a wide variety of wildlife on the islands, including many endangered species such as harlequin ducks and mainland moose. There are no walking paths and no new developments on the islands; other than what has been left from hundreds of years ago.
Make sure to keep an eye out for the next part of this blog where we kayaked to the 100 Wild Islands and dipped the eosGP into the waters of Shelter Cove where the aquatic ecosystem is diverse and full of eelgrass. We also took the eosFD to measure soil flux on the islands that were lived on hundreds of years ago and stepped foot in a very old fishing hut! We have the data, the pictures and can’t wait to share them with you!