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Satellite images capture dramatic erosion on P.E.I.'s coastline and damage to sand dunes


When Hurricane Fiona made landfall over the weekend as a post-tropical storm, Prince Edward Island and one of its most important ecosystems endured significant damage as the storm triggered erosion on the province’s coastline.

Photos from the Canadian Space Agency showed the extent of the storm’s force as it swept through the province. Citizen scientists on the ground also captured its impact on the sand dunes of national parks, including Dalvay, Brackley and Cavendish Beach.

Chris Houser, a science professor at the University of Windsor, says the damage to the Dalvay national park sand dunes is unlike anything seen before

“The dune basically was cut in half,” Houser told in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“It lost a large part of its volume, it’s going to collapse eventually, lose a lot of its height, and most of the sediments went offshore with some of it going behind the barrier through little washover channels.”

Meteorologists have described Fiona as one of the most impactful storms to have hit the Atlantic region as wind gusts reached over 100 kilometres per hour with some areas in P.E.I. nearing 150 km/h. Though the main brunt of the storm was its staying power, as forceful winds made for a consistent storm surge that lasted for hours.

Houser says early reports from his team of citizen scientists with Parks Canada’s Coastie Initiative indicate the high tides caused by the storm took nearly 10 metres off the dune and approximately 30 cubic metres per every metre of sand was lost from the beach. While sand dunes naturally recover themselves, it’ll likely take years for the dunes to recover because of Fiona’s force.

“It's going to have an impact on that system over the next couple of years because it could almost take 10 years for that system to fully recover,” he said.


Sand dunes are an important ecosystem to the province, says Jennifer Stewart from Parks Canada P.E.I. She says they play an essential role as a natural barrier to protect other ecological communities and ourselves from future extreme weather events.

“During Hurricane Dorian, in 2019, we lost an average of two metres of coastline throughout P.E.I. National Park, and so we are used to having hurricanes in this area, but I haven't seen this level of erosion before,” Stewart told in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Sand dunes are able to rebuild themselves during the spring once beach vegetation begins to grow marram grass. This grass is essential in rebuilding the dunes as the grass catches sand to grow new dunes, spreading under the surface of the sand to create roots that will form a net to keep the sand in place.

“That's the protection that we would have against the forces of the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” she said. “So not having that sand dune there, it leaves us a bit more vulnerable to damage from winter storms and weather in general.”

However, with the effects of climate change increasing every year, ecosystems like the sand dunes may not be able to recover fast enough before further extreme weather events cause more damage.

With melting ice caps triggering rising sea levels, Houser says storms like Fiona will only increase with time and further delay the recovery process of these ecosystems. Additionally, warmer winters that are unable to create ice over our lakes can cause further damage to the dunes as the ice would normally give them a break from consistent waves.

“I think the most important piece here is the recovery. The erosion is always such a dramatic event and we focus on that, but the most important thing that will determine how the system will change is the recovery, which is going to take years to a decade,” he said.

Houser says it’s become more important than ever for citizen scientists and environmentalists to continue to collect photos and data on the effects of these extreme weather events to help better understand the ways to protect these ecosystems. Top Stories

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