The Guardian is the latest news organization to cover the erosion of Lennox Island, chief Mi’kmaq reserve on Prince Edward Island, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Ashifa Kassam’s article. Between erosion and rising sea levels, it’s an open question as to whether one of the most noteworthy centres of Mi’kmaq culture left can last to the end of the century.
His hands tucked tightly in the pockets of his jeans, Gilbert Sark nodded at the ice-covered bay stretched out before him.
Decades ago, his grandfather – at the time one of the few in this First Nations community to own a truck – would spend winters ferrying people across the frozen bay to Prince Edward Island. One wintry day, the truck hit a patch of soft ice, sending it plunging into the frigid waters below.
His grandfather didn’t make it out of the truck in time. “That bay has claimed a lot of people,” said Sark. “Now it’s claiming land.”
For as long as anyone can remember, life on Lennox Island – a community of some 450 people on the east coast of Canada – has been set to the rhythm of the waters that lap its shores of red sand. But climate change is drastically altering this relationship, sending sea levels rising, pelting the small island with fiercer and more frequent storms and bringing warmer winters that eat away at the ice cover that traditionally protected the shores for months at a time.
The result is impossible to ignore. “We’re losing our island,” said Sark. A survey of the island carried out in 1880 counted 1,520 acres of land. In 2015, surveyors mapped out 1,100 acres of land on Lennox Island – suggesting more than 300 football fields worth of land have been swallowed by the sea within the span of a few generations.
Sark pointed to the shoreline next to the cemetery where his mother and many other members of his family are buried. “There used to be a field right there. We used to play football in that area.”
The community recently spent tens of thousands of dollars to save the graveyard from the encroaching waters, building a wall made up of three layers of rock. “They had to fix it or there would be caskets going out into our bay,” said Sark. “It was that close.”
The scars of the island’s battle against climate change are visible across this low-lying island. Local people recall playing baseball where boats now bob in the water; homes that once sat 20ft from the shore now teeter precariously close to the sea. The shoreline has crept up to the edges of the community’s decade-old sewage lagoon, sparking concerns that a storm surge could send waste into Malpeque Bay, a world-renowned site for harvesting oysters.