Since I was young I’ve always loved Sable Island and its wildlife. I’ve never had the opportunity to go there but in my head I can imagine what it would be like. When I put Sable in words I picture the wind rustling the grass, the sweet smell of wild flowers playing with my senses and the sound of seals in the distance. Everything from the history of the island to the modern tours sparks my interest. When I was younger my family and I would gather around a fireplace, and we would tell tales of ghost ships and haunted lighthouses. To me legends aren’t just stories, they’re heirlooms passed down from generation to generation and that’s what Sable Island is to me.
Sable Island is a wandering sandbar, located 290 km off the coast of Halifax, NS. Sable is a crescent-shaped island approximately 43km long. According to Discovery Halifax that’s the distance from Peggy’s Cove to Halifax! I had the wonderful opportunity to question Zoe Lucas (a naturalist who, most of the time, calls the island home) and one of the questions that I asked was how Covid affected her work. She replied saying that coronavirus didn’t affect her work to the extent that I expected. The island was only home to her and maybe four park staff so it wasn’t hard to social distance. Sable Island isn’t a normal island, it changes shape. I know the idea of a shape-changing island can boggle the mind but the fact is true. There is always wind blowing across the island, so the island is always reshaping itself. Facts like the island reshaping are just the tip of the iceberg but under the surface there is more than you could imagine. I’d say that there are two main reasons that Sable Island is so well known. The history and the fauna of the island seem to be what captivates most audiences.
First up – history! The history of Sable Island is amazing and rich. One of the names used for Sable Island is the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The reason that the name is used so frequently is that over 350 ships have sunk off the coast of Sable Island since 1583. The most recent shipwreck was in 1999. Many of the ships that sank have a ghost story or a spine-chilling legend behind the sinking. One of the many true shipwreck stories is the tale of the Nicosia which took place in 1894. The Nicosia ran aground in thick fog. The ship didn’t make it, but all 18 crew members were saved. The part of this story that I find astounding is how the captain’s son survived. As he jumped into one of the lifeboats, it capsized leaving him trapped underneath. The lifeboat was then hauled up on the ship with the captain’s son still holding on! That was one of the better stories because before the lifesaving station was made in 1801 there were too many stories that didn’t end so well.
Now on to the fauna. When people think of Sable Island they normally think of the horses but there is so much life besides the horses. There are seabirds, seals and sharks. Sable Island has birds from the Great Black-backed Gull to the tiny Ipswich Sparrow. The birds are all unique but the bird that I’m going to highlight is the Ipswich Sparrow. Ipswich Sparrows spend winters in the dunes that border the East Coast south to Georgia but they breed primarily on Sable Island. It’s amazing to think that a bird knows how to get back to Sable Island even when the flight is about 2,380km. One of the other types of animals that might come to mind are seals (scientific name Pinnipedia). The seal colony on Sable island has grown to about 400,000 individuals. One of the reasons that Sable Island is brimming with seals is because of the high food supply. “These animals don’t need to travel that far to access food,” says Damien Lidgard (a seal expert). Besides seals that roam the waters off Sable Island, sharks have also been known to call the waters surrounding Sable home. Some of the types of shark that inhabit the coast of Sable are Basking Sharks and Great Whites, just to name a couple. According to Zoe Lucas every once in a while they’ll find a dead shark washed up on the beach.
Now on to what I would consider the Sable Island mascot, the Sable Island wild horses. Sable Island is home to about 500 horses depending on what season it is, for in the cold winter some of the horses die off but in the spring more babies are born. There are quite a few ideas on how the horses ended up on the island but the story that I find most likely is as follows. Sometimes long ago people would keep their livestock out on islands because of there being no predators and lots of food, but it’s thought that multiple times people left horses out on the island to stay although we do not know which breed of horse that the horses out there are descended from. The horses of Sable are a wild and majestic breed just like the island itself.
I hope you enjoyed my essay just as much as I enjoyed writing it and got a new aspect of Sable Island.
Anna Louise Tingley © 2021
Grade 6, Petite Riviere Elementary School, Petite Riviere, NS
Sable In Words 2021
Youth Writing Contest, 10-13 age group
Sable Island Institute