Four county beaches added to erosion study

October 26, 2022

Four Inverness County beaches have been added to a coastal erosion study as a result of a recent funding announcement.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently announced more than $200,000 in funding that will allow the Gulf Aquarium and Marine Station Cooperative (GAMS) in Grand Etang, with researchers from the Biology Department at St. F.X. University, to continue to study the beaches in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, along western Cape Breton and the north shore of mainland Nova Scotia.

Over the past 10 years, researchers have been studying beaches in several local communities, including Judique, Port Hood, Petit Etang and Cheticamp. This latest funding will allow them to continue their work into 2025, as they bring four additional beaches into their work, including the Point Cross Beach, Whale Cove, Inverness Beach and the West Mabou Provincial Park.

Kiersty Malay, a St. F.X. University graduate student and an intern with GAMS, investigates changes in vegetation and erosion rates in a salt marsh in Pomquet, Antigonish County.

Lead researcher Dr. David Garbary, professor of biology at St. F.X., says the three-year grant will bring two undergraduate students to the Cheticamp area each summer who will base their research and outreach to the public at the GAMS facility, which is located at Grand Etang Harbour. Several graduate students will also take part in the research program.

Garbary says beach systems are increasingly under threat from sea level rise, climate change and human use. This project will provide information which can be shared with the public through GAMS.

“This is a means of the public better understanding – how can they see climate change in their community, how can they see the effects of sea level rise in their community in a way that is really tangible,” he explains. “This project, I think, provides some of that.”

The research applies a method developed by GAMS and St. F.X. over the past decade for mapping the rate of change in vegetation on the sand dunes. Using hand-held GPS units, researchers can collect data on the margin of vegetation along beaches and, by putting that information into Google Earth, can see how that margin of vegetation has changed over time.

The project focused primarily on the dune vegetation margin this summer but will also examine associated salt marshes in subsequent field seasons.

Garbary says the information collected will help industry and the general public better understand what is happening on local beaches, and that’s where GAMS comes in. In addition to providing a base for local researchers, it will also allow them the opportunity to share their findings with the public, particularly those who rely on these coastal areas for their livelihoods and recreation.

Undergraduate students Tyler Reed (St. F.X.), left, Haley Ehler (Saint Mary’s) take part in the same study in the Cheticamp area

“Most of the beaches we’re studying are really important as an economic resource for these communities, and they’re the basis for tourism, they’re the basis for lots of recreation, and if those shores are deteriorating, it behooves both the province and the local communities to understand why that’s happening,” Garbary notes.

“There are two sides to the project – the research side and the outreach side of things,” he adds. “The outreach and public education portion of it is what Gretchen (Dr. Gretchen Hull-Noyes, president of GAMS) is heading up and that is based out of the Discovery Centre in Grand Etang.”

GAMS is based on three pillars: education, research and community. It offers a place where local residents and visitors can come to learn about the ocean and its creatures. It works with universities, government, and other groups to conduct research on fisheries and the oceans. Past areas of study have included acidification sampling, invasive species and oyster aquaculture.

The cooperative also works within the community, hosting summer camps for children, and also working with industry groups, such as fishermen, to better understand what is happening to coastal areas of the county.

Kiersty Malay, right, is joined by fellow St. F.X. graduate student Lexie Trevors and supervisor Dr. David Garbary.