Life of a Sable Island field researcher

Some people may be wondering what scientific research field work may entail or even what it is like to live on an island. Well for 4 weeks this summer I got to experience both, joining the second half of the Sable Island Horse Project field season. I had a really great time and so here’s a little taste of Sable life and my experience this summer.

A day in the life on the project

  1. Two people would complete morning lab work before breakfast, processing samples ready to be analysed in university labs back on the main land.
  2. After breakfast, the field crew (5 of us) would often gather for a session of morning yoga. This was followed by a run down of the plan for that day’s surveying.
  3. Each day we would spend approximately 6 hours in the field in a range of weather conditions, such as thick fog, light rain, or bright sunshine.Fog
    • Field work involved travelling out to one of the 7 sections on the island in the buggy or on ATVs (if a certified user) and surveying that whole section on foot, which often involved hiking on bare sand and through thick vegetation.
    • When a horse or band of horses were encountered, photos were taken of each individual from all sides and data was collected, including information on markings, sex, and location.IMG_4174
  4. Following return from field work each day, field equipment would be put away before lab work was completed. Lab work involved processing faecal samples to enable a range of analyses to be conducted, such as parasite egg counts in the lab or more complex analyses back on the main land.
  5. During lab work or following completion, we would enjoy a well earned dinner cooked by one of us on rotation. As one of the field crew were vegan, we spent the majority of our time eating a vegan diet. Food we ate during my time on the island included:
    • Taco pastaPineapple Upside Down Cake
    • Homemade pizza
    • Lentil curry
    • Veggie burgers
    • Pineapple upside-down cake
    • Fajitas
    • Thanksgiving-style cauliflower roast
    • Veggie chow mein
    • Breakfast for dinner= scrambled eggs, bacon, fried potatoes and vegan pancakes
  6. Field work, lab work and dinner were followed by organising photos taken of horses that day and bands lists being updated.
  7. End=bedtime!

Base camp 

Of the buildings that currently remain of the old lifesaving stations on the island, a cluster in the west half make up what is known as main station. Main station is the base for Parks Canada who manage the island and for researchers and visitors who come to the island.

Bird's eye view of main station

View of main station from a plane

It was here I got to stay during my time on the island, specifically in a large white house that held a lab, storage space, living areas, and other facilities and could sleep approximately 15 people. It was only occupied by the Sable Island Horse Project field crew, a Parks Canada staff member and short-term building consultants during my stay.

Main station house

Rain days on Sable Island

The weather can be highly unpredictable on Sable Island, changing from fog to hot sun to rain very quickly. Though we could tackle some bad weather during field work, heavy rain and the spectacular thunderstorms of Sable Island were a no go. Such weather resulted in celebrated rain days, allowing us to have a well earned rest for one day.

Rain day activities with the girls ranged from organising the house, completing project work and catching up with jobs, to watching back to back episodes of TV programmes, such as ‘Say Yes to the Dress’, and baking sessions, which included making pretzels.

The sunsets

Though there is much more I could say about life on Sable Island, I have to admit that my most favourite part of my time had to be the sunsets. Following a long day of field and lab work, there was nothing that could quite compare to walking out onto North beach and watching one of the spectacular sunsets on offer. It has to be said that my visits to Canada have always delivered in the sunset department, and Sable Island was no different. Here’s an assortment of photos of these celebrated events!

Sunset seal




Beach sunset

Tracks in the sand

Sunset with seal

Sunset sky


Red sky at night

Ruth and Julie

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