“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
You don’t need to be a science whiz or a brilliant writer in order to stand up for the environment. You just need to make your voice heard.
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We must honour Owls Head Provincial Park’s 45-year history of promised protections
“The concept of an Eastern Shore Seaside Park System was unanimously approved-in-principle by local community representatives on May 1, 1975. This proposed concept was the product of co-operative efforts by the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, Provincial Government, public participation advisors, and elected citizen representatives.”Eastern Shore Seaside Park System: Citizen Representative Committee Brochure
Owls Head Park was identified as Tier 1 (top priority) conservation land through the Colin Stewart Forest Forum process.
“Tier 1” areas are those of highest priority and conservation value […] Most Tier 1 areas are truly irreplaceable, meaning that they represent the last opportunities to fill particularly critical gaps in the protected areas network, or to capture highly significant ecological features.”Colin Stewart Forestry Forum Final Report
Owls Head was included in the 2013 Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan, which was based on extensive consultation with citizens, industry representatives, scientists, and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. All of the properties were chosen for their outstanding conservation values.
In contrast, Owls Head was removed from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan through a confidential minute letter, without any scientific basis, public consultation, or notice.
Please see the timeline of Owls Head Park for more information.
Crown land belongs to all Nova Scotians
Nova Scotia has relatively little publicly owned land and even less publicly owned land along our coasts.
“Nova Scotia has a limited amount of Crown land. Only 35% of the Nova Scotia landmass is owned and administered by the province, compared to 50–90% in other provinces and territories in Canada.”Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources
“Please do not delist protected areas without the same sorts of extensive and prolonged public processes that were conducted to list them in the first place.”Dr. Karen Beazley
Nova Scotia must protect our remaining coastal properties
Representative coastal landscapes like Owls Head are underrepresented in Nova Scotia’s conservation portfolio. Only around 5% of Nova Scotia’s coastline is publicly owned and protected for future generations.
The natural beauty of our coastlines attracts visitors from all over the world. Irreparably harming the environment of Owls Head will also destroy opportunities for eco-tourism, which could offer great economic potential without harming the environment.
“Coastal ecosystems are among the most productive yet highly threatened systems in the world. These ecosystems produce disproportionately more services relating to human well-being than most other systems, even those covering larger total areas, but are experiencing some of the most rapid degradation and loss.”Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, “Marine and Coastal Ecosystems & Human Well-being”
“Coastal heathlands add diversity to the mostly forested landscape of Nova Scotia and provide habitat for rare species,” explains Christopher Trider. Read more
“Ecologically, Owls Head is globally significant. Intact temperate coastal barrens ecosystems are globally rare, and mainly remain in our region. As such, we have an extra obligation to the world to safeguard these ecosystems.”Dr. Karen Beazley
Nova Scotia must conserve more wilderness
Nova Scotia’s quota for land protection is only 13%, which we have not yet reached.
Our province falls short of national (Canada’s Pathway to Target 1) and international conservation goals by a large margin.
The U.N. and the Government of Canada have already committed to
17% land protection by the end of 2020
25% by 2025 and
30% land protection by 2030.
These goals are based on science and are vital to protecting biodiversity.
We must protect Owls Head to safeguard biodiversity
“We are in the midst of both climate and biological diversity (extinction) emergencies, wherein we are at or beyond planetary thresholds for being able to recover. Such intact ecosystems as Owls Head are our ecological life-support systems. We need them in order to survive as a species, as do the other species with which we share this land, many of which are endangered.”Dr. Karen Beazley
Biodiversity is critical to maintaining healthy ecosystems as well as protecting human health.
Halifax’s Green Network Plan identifies an “essential corridor” between Owls Head Park and Tangier Grand Lake Wilderness Area. Also known as a green corridor or wildlife corridor, these connecting spaces are vital for our wildlife and biodiversity.
These corridors can mitigate certain effects of habitat fragmentation. Enabling individual animals to move between protected areas allows them access to more resources, increases biodiversity (by preventing inbreeding), and reduces zoonotic diseases.
“Owls Head contains a globally rare coastal habitat ecosystem that is home to several species of conservation concern.”Biologist Bob Bancroft
The beloved piping plover is endangered, both provincially (under Endangered Species Act) and federally (under the Species at Risk Act). In Nova Scotia, there are fewer than 40 breeding pairs of piping plovers, so we must make every effort to protect them and their habitat.
Scientists from St. Mary’s University (Ecology of Plants in Communities Lab) have been studying at Owls Head for 15 years. They’ve determined that it is home to a “globally rare” Broom Crowberry (Corema conradii) plant community.
“Our years of data reveal that Owls Head is ecologically unique and of importance to biodiversity conservation […] Broom Crowberry is endemic to northeastern North America, meaning this species can be found nowhere else in the world. In Canada, this plant only occurs within the Maritime Provinces and Quebec and within that limited range, Broom Crowberry is only common in Nova Scotia. If our province does not make an effort to protect this species, there will be no other opportunity elsewhere to protect it.”Biologists Caitlin Porter & Dr. Jeremy Lundholm
Piping Plovers & Other Bird Species
As a 268-hectare coastal landscape on the Atlantic Flyway, Owls Head is an important habitat for native bird species and a refuge for migratory birds. The beloved piping plover is endangered, both provincially (under Endangered Species Act) and federally (under the Species at Risk Act). In Nova Scotia, there are fewer than 40 breeding pairs of piping plovers, so we must make every effort to protect them and their habitat. When CPAWS visited the site, they released this statement:
Although hiking is slow due to the dense brush, over the course of two early mornings the ground team identified the calls of warblers, sparrows, common yellowthroat, American robins and ring-necked pheasants, to name a few. Not a bad 5 am greeting!CPAWS NS
From the water, we saw great blue herons, ospreys and a bald eagle, as well as black guillemots, willets, and migratory species like the American redstart. Our keen-eyed coastal birder also identified a handful of provincially-endangered barn swallows.
The fieldwork was a success with a total of 58 species of birds identified and recorded using eBird, an online database of bird observations used worldwide. The government claims that Owls Head is of low conservation value, but our fieldwork is adding to a growing body of research that shows that this is clearly not the case. By documenting the biodiversity found in both marine and terrestrial habitats, we can improve public knowledge and demonstrate the conservation significance of this area.
Ecosystems Contributing to Biodiversity
“This ecologically important coastal wetland habitat is also home to several endangered species, including the piping plover, with eelgrass beds surrounding the headlands of the park providing vital coastal habitat.”World Wildlife Fund Canada
In addition to the coastal headlands, ecosystems such as eelgrass and rockweed beds and wetlands also contribute to biodiversity. See the next section on ecosystem services for more information.
“Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are vital to our health and continued prosperity […] As we look toward restarting our economy, we need to continue investing in the protection of our natural surroundings and the fight against climate change—because if you do not have a plan for the environment, you cannot have a plan for the economy.”Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Ecosystem services are vital and add value to Nova Scotia
The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment defined ecosystem services as simply, “the benefit that people obtain from ecosystems.”
“Nature-based solutions, which protected areas represent, are critical to addressing the sister crises of climate and biodiversity, through safeguarding species, storing and sequestering carbon, cleansing water and air, and other ecosystem services.”
Dr. Karen Beazley
Owls Head is a biologically diverse property with coastal heathlands, salt marshes and bogs, a freshwater lake, estuaries, beaches, and a rugged coastline. It is bordered by offshore eelgrass beds. These different ecosystems provide important ecosystem services, which benefit nature as well as humans.
Eelgrass (a type of seagrass) and Rockweed Ecosystems
“Seagrass meadows protect our coasts from high-energy waves from the ocean. This protection is especially important during storms; without it our coastal towns and cities would not exist.”
Seagrass researcher Sarah Joy Bittick
“Both [eelgrass and rockweed] are so-called ‘ecosystem engineers.’ This means that these species create a special habitat, much like trees on land: a habitat in which other species can live, feed, spawn and hide. This, in turn, affects a whole range of species, from small invertebrates (like mussels and clams) to crustaceans (such as lobster and crabs), to fish (such as herring, juvenile salmon, and some flatfish).”
Dr. Kristina Boerder
Marine Biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder elaborates:
Rockweed and eelgrass beds provide ecosystem services, which are defined as benefits to humans. These benefits include:
- Protection from coastal erosion by slowing down waves and currents and stabilizing sediment
- Providing oxygen and nutrients
- Enhancing water quality
- Absorbing and storing carbon, which helps to mitigate climate change
- Providing important habitat for many other species like fish, crustaceans and invertebrates such as scallops. These species feed, hide and spawn in these habitats. Eelgrass beds provide ‘nursery habitat’ to young fish by providing food and shelter from larger predators.
- This, in turn, supports healthy fisheries, a reason why seagrass beds have been declared ‘Essential Fish Habitat.’
“Thanks to the ecosystem services that seagrass provides, the value generated by seagrass is among the highest of any habitat in the world. And it’s been estimated in excess of $20,000 per hectare, per year.”
Dr. Boris Worm
“Our data show that at least 28% (and up to 51%) of the area of Owl’s Head Provincial Park is wetland. The largest area of these wetlands consists of interconnected and biodiverse bog wetlands that occur in mostly linear shaped features distributed across the entire area of the site.
Biologists Caitlin Porter & Dr. Jeremy Lundholm
Some Excerpts from Nova Scotia Wetland Conservation Policy:
“Nova Scotia’s wetlands provide an estimated $7.9 billion worth of benefits in ecosystem services to Nova Scotians annually, according to a GPI Atlantic study on the province’s water resource values.”
“GPI Atlantic (Genuine Progress Index for Atlantic Canada) estimates that the remaining salt marshes in Nova Scotia provide over $400 million worth of ecosystem services to Nova Scotia communities each year, including flood and erosion control and infrastructure protection from storm surges.”
“GPI Atlantic estimates that wetland loss to development in Nova Scotia equates to about $2 billion annually in lost ecological services like water purification,recharging drinking waters and enhancing fishery productivity.”
Ecosystem Services and Functions Performed by Wetlands (Excerpt from Nova Scotia Wetland Conservation Policy)
Wetlands provide or support a wide range of important ecological, social and economic functions and services in our watersheds that are beneficial to Nova Scotians. […] These include, but are not limited to:
- Protecting human and ecosystem health by removing organic waste and bacteria and filtering excess nutrients (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorous), contaminants and silt from surface and ground water
- Storing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, potentially moderating climate effects
- Protecting coastlines and coastal infrastructure from storm surges
- Contributing to the water balance and drinking water supply by storing and releasing surface water and recharging groundwater reservoirs
- Conserving biodiversity by providing important habitats for fish, wildlife and plants, often for rare or endangered species, such as our globally significant coastal plain flora
You can read the whole list, here
We must prevent these ecosystems from being destroyed
“Land and ocean are inextricably connected; impacts on one will impact the other. Changing or disappearing ecosystems on land will lead to the collapse of marine ecosystems and vice versa.”
Dr. Kristina Boerder
“Nearby Owls Head are eelgrass beds that are extremely sensitive to water quality from runoff and to smothering by sedimentation.”
Biologists Caitlin Porter & Dr. Jeremy Lundholm
“Golf courses have significant environmental impacts due to changes in the natural landscape, elimination and alteration of plant communities and animal habitats, introduction of exotic species, invasion and trampling of sensitive and rare plant communities, alteration of wetlands and associated hydrology, run-off of turf-management chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides), eutrophication of water bodies, and others.”
Dr. Martin Willison
“The wetlands, ponds, lakes, and marine environment associated with Owls Head would be adversely affected by a golf course development. Data that we have collected at similar sites in the province show deterioration of water quality in surface runoff with the removal of barrens vegetation.”
Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society
“In addition, since wetlands are among the most productive and diverse of all the ecosystems on earth, losing them means reduced biodiversity through the loss of local populations of fish, wildlife and plants that depend on wetlands for their habitat or food.”
Nova Scotia Wetland Conservation Policy
“The primary direct driver of the loss and degradation of coastal wetlands […] has been conversion to other land uses.”
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, “Wetlands and Water”
“The bogs and coastal wetlands of Owls Head are beautiful, complex, pristine, and undervalued. Development of the site would completely, irrevocably, and utterly destroy the natural hydrology of Owl’s Head and impact surrounding marine waters.”
“Owls Head and adjacent sites are extremely wind exposed and their situation along the high-energy Atlantic shoreline means they are both vulnerable to erosion and difficult or unfeasible to restore once their ecological integrity has been affected.”
Biologists Caitlin Porter & Dr. Jeremy Lundholm