Fiona: Satellite images capture the impact on the PEI coastline.

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

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

University of Windsor science professor Chris Houser says damage to sand dunes in Dalvay National Park is unlike anything seen before

« The dune was cut in half, » Houser told in a phone interview Tuesday.

« It’s lost a lot of its volume, it’s going to collapse eventually, lose a lot of its height, and most of the sediment has gone offshore, some of it going behind the barrier through small washout channels. «

Meteorologists have described Fiona as one of the hardest-hitting storms to hit the Atlantic region, with wind gusts reaching over 100 kilometers per hour, parts of Prince Edward Island reaching almost 150 km/h. Although the main impact of the storm was its resistance, high winds caused a constant storm surge that lasted for hours.

Houser says initial reports from his team of citizen scientists with Parks Canada’s Coastie Initiative indicate that high tides caused by the storm removed nearly 10 meters of the dune and about 30 cubic meters per meter of sand was lost. from the beach. While the sand dunes recover naturally, it will likely take years for the dunes to recover due to Fiona’s strength.

« It’s going to have an impact on this system over the next two years, because it could take almost 10 years for this system to fully recover, » he said.


Sand dunes are an important ecosystem for the province, says Jennifer Stewart of Parks Canada PEI. She says they play a vital 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 meters of shoreline across PEI National Park, so we’re used to having hurricanes in this area, but I’ve never seen this level of erosion before, » Stewart told CTVNews. .ca in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Sand dunes are able to rebuild in the spring once beach vegetation begins to grow marram grass. This grass is essential to rebuilding the dunes because the grass grabs the sand to grow new dunes, spreading below the surface of the sand to create roots that will form a net to hold the sand in place.

“That’s the protection we would have against the forces in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” she said. « So not having that sand dune there makes 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 sand dunes may not be able to recover quickly enough before new extreme weather events cause more damage.

With melting ice caps causing sea levels to rise, Houser says storms like Fiona will only increase over time and further delay the process of restoring these ecosystems. Also, warmer winters that cannot create ice on our lakes can further damage the dunes, as the ice would normally give them a break from the constant waves.

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

Houser says it has become more important than ever for citizen scientists and conservationists to continue collecting photos and data of the effects of these extreme weather events to help better understand ways to protect these ecosystems.


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