Geography and climate

Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) is a small island province in eastern Canada. The island is known for its rolling agricultural hills, sandy beaches and active fishing communities. Access to the island is possible by a bridge which connects with New Brunswick, or a ferry service from Nova Scotia also travels from May until mid-December. The first settlers in P.E.I. came by sea and lighthouses were constructed in many coastal areas, each with a distinctive flashing pattern, to identify the small island to approaching ships. These lighthouses have become tourist attractions and cultural resources.

Map of Prince Edward Island

Source: The Canadian Province of Prince Edward Island

P.E.I. is a crescent shaped island with more than 4,000 km of streams that wind through the landscape. The province is not well endowed with freshwater lakes, however many dams have been built on streams to create small ponds. In contrast, wetlands make up 5% of P.E.I.. Estuaries, where freshwater from streams meet saltwater are found where streams run into the ocean around P.E.I.. Streams in P.E.I. generally flow from springs and are approximately 60 to 70% groundwater with the remaining annual flow coming from surface runoff and rainfall. During dry periods, the stream flows are almost 100% groundwater fed.

Lobster trapsAnother common feature in the coastal areas of P.E.I. is the sand dune. These features generally run parallel to the shoreline and are created by wind and wave actions. The sensitive nature of this feature is protected under the provincial Environmental Protection Act which restricts development and activities in the dune areas.

The weather conditions in P.E.I. vary by season with snowfall and colder temperatures (between -11 and five degrees Celsius) likely November through April. The best beach weather occurs in July and August when temperatures reach the low 20oC range. The month with the greatest rainfall is October when an average of 109mm falls on the island. Climate projections for the island have been calculated and these projections indicate that the island will likely experience warmer weather, less snowfall, greater rainfall, more storms and rising sea levels. The ParCA project will work to improve the reliability of these projections, while also studying the direct and indirect impacts these changes will have for the population of Prince Edward Island.

Socio-economic and political status

Agriculture in PEIThe capital city on P.E.I. is Charlottetown and the island has a population of 145,855 which is divided equally between urban and rural communities. PEI is Canada’s smallest province and is also known as the greenest province with clean air and water (Government of Prince Edward Island). Due to the small size of the province, there has been a historic dependence on natural resource industries in the economy. Tourism, agriculture and fisheries are the main economic sectors in the province. The 2011 Statistical Review reports increases in economic growth in various areas: farm cash receipts increased 17.5%, fish landings increased 8.8% and the total value of exported goods increased 5.5% (Government of P.E.I.).

As the home of the famed Anne of Green Gables, PEI has a tourism industry based on cultural heritage and also natural beauty. Tourism is an influential industry on the island and the PEI Tourism Advisory Council developed a 5 Year Strategy to continue to grow this important industry. One notable goal is to become Canada’s leading coastal and beach destination. The Tourism Advisory Council was created to perpetuate more constant growth in tourism that is seen as the most sustainable and renewable. The strengthening Canadian dollar has proved a disadvantage for the PEI tourism market, this along with changing demographics and tourism globalization pose significant challenges for PEI tourism operators.

“In 2009, the tourism industry on P.E.I. saw visitation of 1,281,471, an increase of 7.2% from 2008 and total revenues of $372.9 million, up 0.6%. While the figures for 2010 have not yet been finalized, it is estimated the Provincial tax revenues will be approximately $42.9 million and GDP will be similar to 2008’s total of 6.88%.”  (Tourism Industry Association of PEI, 2011).

The industry provides 7,500 full time jobs and includes more than 1,200 businesses in the region (Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island, 2012). Recent years have seen reductions in tourism visitors in arriving by all means except motor coach (see table below).

Traffic Change year to date December 2011
Bridge -6.7%
Air -1.5%
Ferry -5.1%
Cruise Ships -2.5%
Motor Coach 13.8%

Source: Government of PEI. (2012) Prince Edward Island Tourism Indicators

Erosion impacts coastal propertyCharlottetown was the place where the idea for Canada was born and as a result the province is known as the “birthplace of Confederation”. The Canadian political system divides power between the federal, provincial and municipal governments. First Nations groups, since 1995, developed self-government agreements with the federal government. The relationship between the federal government and First Nations groups has been tumultuous with much debate over the adequacy of the Treaty Rights given to First Nations. A recent success was the historic apology, in 2008, from the Government of Canada for its attempt to assimilate Aboriginal children into the dominant culture through the Indian Residential Schools.

The Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island has an Intergovernmental Affairs Office which bridges the gap between the Mi’kmaq Governments and the Federal and Provincial Governments. The Confederacy was created in 2002 and a Partnership Agreement was signed Dec. 1, 2007 by the Governments of Canada, PEI and the Mi’kmaq to ensure cooperation on First Nations matters such as health, education, justice, economic development and family and child services (Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI).

Natural resources and environment

As a small island with an economy based around natural resources, the health of the environment in PEI is important. Management of natural resources crosses several provincial government departments: Agriculture and forestry, fisheries, aquaculture and rural development, environment, labour and justice and finance, energy and municipal affairs. These government bodies have worked together to draft a strategy for managing climate change impacts entitled Prince Edward Island and Climate Change: A Strategy for Reducing the Impacts of Global Warming (PDF).

Community partner in PEIFisheries management in the small island province has employed different strategies for conservation of the fishery. In 1999 through 2001, conflict between the Canadian Government and the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations communities arose after a fisherman, Donald Marshall, was charged with over-fishing, fishing without a licence and fishing with an illegal net. Negotiations between the national government and First Nations groups went on for many years after that in search of a compromise between traditional conservation practices and national Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulations. As a result of the Marshall decision, First Nations groups in Atlantic Canada have come together to promote fisheries co-management. This led to the creation of the Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (AICFI) (PDF), which includes 34 First Nations.

In P.E.I. there are two main First Nation communities; Lennox Island and Abegweit. The community of Abegweit has historically been sustained by the lobster fishery and currently they have 8 boats for use in the commercial and traditional lobster fishery. The fishing industry is the largest employer in Abegweit. Along with lobster, other seafood is harvested including: oysters, snow crab, clams and other fish resources.

The Lennox Island band also operates a communal fishery for their livelihood. They have vessels operating within the inshore fishery around PEI and this community hosts the only lobster processing plant in Canada, Minigoo Fisheries. The lobster catch is distributed to community band members who wish to participate in the Food Fishery Program on a turn system. Traditional conservation practices continue to dictate catches and approximately 100 lobster traps are used to fish and the catch is distributed evenly among the community.

Coastal housing development

Climate change vulnerability

The Government of Canada and the Atlantic Provinces have embarked on a three year project (ending March 2012) examining the impacts of climate change and developing solutions that will help communities prepare for climate change. In Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) the Regional Adaptation Collaborative (RAC) has identified several vulnerability concerns including:

  • Coastal and Inland flooding
  • Coastal erosion
  • Saltwater intrusion into drinking water sources

In an effort to identify the changes in coastline throughout P.E.I., the RAC is mapping shoreline changes between 1968 (the year against which the coastal setback regulations are measured) and 2010. Sand dunes are particularly vulnerable to future climate changes. Lack of ice around the shorelines in winter, more frequent tidal surges and increased storm events will affect the speed and amount of dunes lost to the sea each year.

CBVA study site: Lennox Island to Savage Harbour, P.E.I.

The community of the Mi’kmaq First Nation resides on Lennox Island. This is a small community, approximately 400 people, but their wells are all considered coastal and their drinking water is therefore at risk to salt water intrusion thanks to coastal erosion and rising sea levels. Salt water intrusion studies have been started in Lennox Island to improve the understanding of vulnerability but First Nations like the Mi’kmaq are known for their adaptability in their traditional territories so their currents needs are to better understand the nature of their vulnerability.

The community of North Rustico has an economy based on tourism, agriculture and fisheries. Coastal erosion and flooding are concerns and flood risk mapping has begun under the RAC. Fishing ports and sandy beaches make this community vulnerable to storm surges that are likely to worsen, according for projections, with rising sea levels. North Rustico is in Green Gables country thus, like the Lennox Island area, cultural heritage features are vulnerable in this community.

Community research update

Mi’kmaq First Nation on Lennox IslandSince early 2014, postdoctoral fellow Tanya Chung Tiam Fook has been conducting interviews, community meetings and participatory scenario and visioning workshops with local stakeholders and decision-makers involved with fisheries, tourism, local governance and environmental management. The study site includes communities in and around Lennox Island, Malpeque Bay, Cavendish, North Rustico, Covehead/Brackley and Savage Harbour.

Building on the CBVA approach, her research uses a community-focused approach to model and evaluate holistic scenarios of coastal vulnerability, local adaptive capacity and adaptation tools. Climatic, social, economic, land use, resource management, infrastructural and governance issues illustrated by the scenarios are based on indicators of current and future vulnerability and adaptive capacity affecting north shore communities and livelihoods. Data has been collected from: i) scientific, policy and institutional sources, ii) local stakeholder insights emerging from participatory methods, and iii) downscaled climate scenarios. Research collaborators and participants include: north shore community members and leaders, Institute for Island Studies at UPEI, local watershed and environmental groups, Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., Mi’kmaq associations, north shore municipal and village councils, fishing and tourism associations, local resource people, Climate Lab at UPEI, and the PEI Department of Environment, Justice and Labour. Interview and secondary data have been used to develop indicators and baseline scenarios. Participant scenarios and storylines provide ground truthing of scientific projections and data with nuanced local insights and desired outcomes for the future. They also identify adaptive capacity levels in communities, and support visioning and decision-making processes.

Study Site at Covehead HarbourThe main goal of her study is to bridge considerable gaps within adaptation research and policy in Atlantic Canada by:

  1. Integrating global climate change goals and scientific data with local priorities and knowledge,
  2. Analyzing the complexity and multiple dimensions of local adaptation and resilience challenges; and
  3. Exploring opportunities for communities and decision-makers to be engaged, innovative and collaborative in envisioning adaptive and resilient coastal zones.

Tanya delivered a course module based on her research entitled “Coastal communities and climate change – developing participatory scenarios” for international graduate students and faculty at the RETI Annual Meetings on Livable Islands: Culture, Politics, Economy and Environment in July 2014. From the results of her study, Tanya is preparing a comprehensive report to share with study collaborators and participants in the hope of informing further research, decision-making and policy actions on climate change adaptation. The report discusses baseline and participatory scenarios, including recommendations for adaptive capacity building and adaptation planning in light of future coastal risks, vulnerability and uncertainty.