Hurricane-force winds and waves demolished this boardwalk to an observation platform at Cavendish beach in Prince Edward Island National Park during post-tropical storm Fiona Sept. 23-24. Brian McInnis • Special to The GuardianRafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 29, 2022 at 13:04

‘It’s just not safe’

By Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

CAVENDISH, P.E.I. — CAVENDISH, P.E.I. — A Charlottetown photographer who has spent years shooting P.E.I.’s shorelines and natural areas says the damage to the province’s north shore dune system is shocking.

On a freelance assignment for SaltWire Network on Sept. 28, Brian McInnis photographed the iconic Cavendish vista from an elevated lookoff area just east of the beach where he was permitted to access. Visits to the area are restricted after post-tropical storm Fiona and its hurricane force winds wreaked havoc on the coast.

McInnis’ shots showed a twisted boardwalk and platform, where thousands of pictures have been shot over the years, pieces missing from the main boardwalk that transports beachgoers to the sand and water and a completely blown-out portion of the iconic dunes.

McInnis, who has spent the past several days visiting several coastal communities across the province, said he clearly remembers post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019, as well as hurricane Juan back in 2003. He has never seen damage like this. 

There were many trees down in Vacation Land in Brackley on Prince Edward Island’s north shore, but the trailers and other infrastructure appear to have escaped serious damage from post-tropical storm Fiona. Brian McInnis • Special to The Guardian

“This was a lot worse,” McInnis told SaltWire Network during an interview on Sept. 28. “There are trees down all over the place across the entire island. It’s terrible, it’s really bad.” 

The worst of the damage, from what he saw, was in Stanley Bridge and French River.

Severe damage

In an update on the condition of P.E.I. National Park after post-tropical storm Fiona, Jennifer Stewart of Parks Canada told SaltWire Network that most of the sand dunes along the north shore are damaged, but it is hoped many of them will recover naturally.

“Luckily, coastal ecosystems are very dynamic,” she said Sept. 28.

At Dalvay, the small dunes along the coastline were destroyed. However, they still managed to protect the road infrastructure close by, leaving the road completely exposed to the coast. There was also significant damage to the Gulf Shore Parkway. 

“In Dorian, the area lost two metres. We lost a lot more this storm, and in some cases, we lost the entire sand dunes,” Stewart said. 

North of the parkway, a dune system several metres high with a boardwalk running through was completely eroded and all the infrastructure washed away. 

“Even underneath the roadbed was eroded, so the road is not stable,” said Stewart. 

There was also damage to coastal wildlife, said Stewart. Luckily, the endangered piping plovers were unharmed, as they have already migrated south for the season. 

The main entrance to the beach at Cavendish in P.E.I. National Park was destroyed when post-tropical storm Fiona slammed the Island over the Sept. 23-24 weekend. Brian McInnis • Special to The Guardian

“Luckily, it’s their off-season, so they are down in the Gulf of Mexico. It is too soon to say how they will be affected when they return to the beaches next spring,” said Stewart. 

Did you know?

• P.E.I.’s sand dunes play a crucial role in acting as a natural barrier, separating impacts from the water from inland communities and infrastructure. 

• As sediment is washed back on the beach during major weather events, beach vegetation, such as marram grass, plays an important role in catching sand and fostering growth of sand dunes as it accumulates.  

• Marram grass spreads its roots under the surface of the sand, creating a living web to hold the dune in place.  

As sand is slowly deposited back onto on the beach over time, the hope is that new dunes will grow. However, this process takes time and requires a collective effort to ensure the area is undisturbed, said Stewart.  

“Now more than ever, we need Islanders and visitors to protect our coastal dune ecosystems so they can, in turn, protect the Island,” she said. 

“This can only happen if people refrain from walking on the dunes,” Stewart said. 

Areas closed

For these reasons, the shoreline from Dalvay to Brackley is closed to the public, as well as Graham’s Lane in Cavendish, the Cavendish Campground and Cavendish Main beach. 

Entrance to these areas is strictly prohibited by car, on foot or on bicycle. Parks Canada personnel are stationed at several beach entrances, and anyone found in violation could be fined. 

“Nobody has access because it’s just not safe,” said Stewart. 

“We have identified our priorities, first being life safety, second being environment protection, third will be stabilization of assets.”

It is unclear when visitors will be allowed to return to these areas. Sections of the coast that are not closed, Parks Canada strongly advises staying away. 

“Crews are out and are doing assessments, and it’s just not a safe place to be. We appreciate the public’s co-operation and patience in this matter,” said Stewart.

Bianca McGregor, executive director of Island Nature Trust, said the organization is waiting until the situation is deemed safe before the organization begins conducting assessments of damage to wild and plant life.

“We will be putting up a drone likely next week to assess the damage,” McGregor told SaltWire Network on Sept.28. 

Although she hasn’t been out to the coastline yet, reports she has received from people who have been to the beaches have not been positive. 

“It’s devastating, the whole thing is just devastating,” said McGregor. 

This item reprinted with permission from   The Guardian   Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

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