We had been flying nearly an hour when a smudge first appeared on the horizon of the ocean stretching before us. Though shrouded in fog, it was clear that we were finally nearing our destination, the remote island that would be my home for the next 4 weeks, Sable Island.
First recorded by European explorers during the early 1500s, Sable Island is a large crescent-shaped sandbar situated approximately 156km from the nearest landmass (Nova Scotia, Canada). Sitting on the edge of the eastern North American continental shelf, the island was probably formed from deposits left by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Currently at about 49km in length, 1.25km in width and up to 30m in height above sea level, the island is experiencing decreases in size over time and shifting eastwards.
Though fabled by many, Sable Island is known for its abundance of wildlife and colourful history. In particular, the island is famous for being the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’, with 350+ shipwrecks resting off its shores, the latest originating from 1999 (the Merrimac). Despite people living on Sable from time to time since its discovery, during the 19th century it was these shipwrecks and the establishment of lighthouses and lifesaving stations that led to the start of continuous human presence on the island. The lifesaving stations persisted till they were decommissioned in 1958, but a meteorological station was set up at the start of the 20th century that is still functioning on the island today.
Today Sable Island is now under the management of Parks Canada, following its designation as a National Park Reserve in 2013. This designation recognises Sable for its impressive dune system and rich biodiversity, including endemic species and the world’s largest grey seal breeding colony. Despite this and the island’s many bird, invertebrate and plant species, you will find that the island’s population of feral horses is what captures most the public’s imagination. These horses were what I first saw when the green strip of Sable flanked by sandy beaches first came fully into view from the plane and its these horses that I was here to visit.
Following my first sight of the island, we were soon bumping down on to the landing strip on the island’s sandy south beach. After months of planning and much hard work, I had finally arrived!
For Further Reading:
- Sable Island: Explorations in Ecology and Biodiversity – Edited by Bill Freedman