SaltWire E-Edition

Boot Island is disappearing before our eyes

WENDY ELLIOTT @KingsNSnews Wendy Elliott is a former reporter for the Kentville Advertiser and the Hants Journal. She lives in Wolfville.

One day last week I was out at the Guzzle looking to see a flock or two of late-leaving semipalmated sandpipers. It was high tide, so I spotted a couple of small flocks turning on a dime as they waited for the mud to reappear.

What surprised the heck out of me was the almost disappearance of Boot Island. Only a few trees remain on top of what looks to be the sand flats which constitute a national wildlife area near the mouth of the Gaspereau River.

The island once had forest, clearings connected to farms and hayfields.

Back in 1977, when the federal government took it over, the island was acknowledged as an important site for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. I remember there was a colony of gorgeous great blue heron that came and went.

The Boot Island National Wildlife Area management plan of 2014 indicates that the island likely received its name from early Acadian settlers who called the site “le bout” — meaning the end.

Boot Island was once connected to the mainland and it helped protect the diked fields in North Grand Pre. But by the mid-1800s, the island was mostly cut off from the mainland by erosion.

At that time the Guzzle was a narrow channel that had developed between the island and the shore.

In Sods, Soil and Spades by the late Sherman Bleakney, he explained the nearby Grand Pre dikelands were once salt

converted marsh but had been to agricultural use by a series of dikes that date back to Acadian settlement more than 300 years ago.

The salt marshes on Boot Island were drained by the

agricultural Planters and turned into land through the use of dikes and aboiteaux. There was even a fox farm for a time. But a severe fall storm in 1913 destroyed many of the dikes. That damage resulted in the families moving off the island not long after, Bleakney said.

Then two families (led by William Biggs and Fred Allen), who were new to the area, bought the island in 1915. They lived together in a large two-story house on the southeast side of the island.

rebuilt They worked the land and some of the dikes on the marsh, but hardships associated with island living eventually forced them to move to the mainland.

The last family to reside on the island was that of Leon Card, which was pre-Second World War. The fields were cropped and farmers used to cut hay. It is believed that most of the agricultural use of Boot Island ended in the late 1930s. The old farm house was still standing in 1946.

Ian Palmeter, who grew up nearby on the mainland, recalls his father being able to throw a baseball from the Guzzle to Boot Island. So, the Guzzle has greatly expanded.

adventurous Up until the 1970’s, the dared to cross over at low tide. Then the birds took over. First the heron and then huge flocks of crows.

Due to these significant shorebird concentrations, the Southern Bight of the Minas Basin was declared a wetland of international importance in 1987, and one year later, the same area was declared a hemispheric shorebird reserve as part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Popular opinion blames the causeway at Windsor for the diminishment of the Boot Island. The salt flats and the small forested area sure seem to be disappearing fast due to coastal erosion.

The late Mike Brylinsky, who was a research associate

at Acadia, said that in hindsight the Avon River causeway should not have been built, but the fact remains it was.

I also recall Acadia professor emeritus Graham Daborn pointing out that there is very little that can be done to alleviate coastal erosion. Sometimes attempts to prevent erosion, “can cause more problems than good.”

More than 30 years ago, Daborn called salt marshes a slow, but effective way to combat erosion. He said they trap sediments and break the waves before they hit the banks or bluffs. That has proved true.

Daborn set out a warning then that sea levels were rising around the world and the greenhouse effect could increase the impact of the phenomenon or erosion. It was he who predicted that Nova Scotians ought to be wary of significant rainfall events, extremely

high tides and wind. While the total precipitation should be about the same, he suggested, it will come more quickly in stronger events.

In the 1990s, I remember the late Robin Marshall, who headed the Kings Regional Development Commission, suggesting it was time to think of taking action like

breakers England, where wave and sea walls were installed.

Out at the Guzzle, birdwatchers can stand on gigantic rocks today that were strategically placed by the provincial government to shore up the dike fields. While rock might prevent erosion in the mid- to shortterm, it will be eventually dispersed. Erosion on our beleaguered planet is inevitable.





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