Leslie Labobe

Lennox Island resident Leslie Labobe places a flag on a poster taped to the wall of the gym at John J. Sark Memorial School following a presentation by researches from the UPEI Climate Research Lab on Feb. 16. Those in attendance were asked to identify and prioritize which climate change risks they see as important to their community. Melissa Heald photo

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Lennox Island resident Leslie Labobe has a house located along the shoreline. He estimates it could be gone in the next 25 years because of coastal erosion.

In the last few years, Lennox Island has had a lot of media attention focused on it as an example of a place highly susceptible to climate change. The island was even featured in a National Geographic article in 2015, an article Mr Labobe read.

“My concern is the damage is already done,” he told researchers from the UPEI Climate Research Lab during an information meeting on Feb. 16, “We need federal and provincial people sitting at the table because this is going to affect all of us. Not just Lennox Island, but the world.”

Lab director Adam Fenech and other researchers are travelling across Prince Edward Island over the next few weeks to speak to communities about sea-level rise.

Eight communities across PEI will be visited. Lennox Island was the first stop in the tour. Approximately 50 people attended the presentation that took place inside the gym at John J. Sark Memorial School.

Mr Fenech said new reports are indicating that sea-level rise is going to increase three times as much than originally thought by scientists, adding oceans are getting warmer and are expanding while ice around the world continues to disappear faster than scientists anticipated, rising sea levels.

“Those two things that scientists didn’t think were going to happen until at least the next century are happening now,” said Mr Fenech during his portion of the presentation entitled Our Incredible Shrinking Island, “That’s why we are getting a little concerned about this idea of sea-level rise.”

With PEI’s sandstone not very resistant to erosion, it’s estimated the Island has lost an overall 5,000 acres of land from 1968-2010 as a result of coastal erosion.

The evening began with Mr Fenech’s colleague Don Jardine presenting an update on a climate change project he and Randy Angus, director of integrated resource management with Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI, have been conducting for the last three years on all four PEI reserves.

With the island having a lot of infrastructure near the shoreline, sea-level rise threatening structures like the reserve’s sewage lagoon and causeway, most of the focus for the project has centred on Lennox Island.

A portion of the island’s causeway had to be repaired following a storm in December 2010 and a storm surge of only three metres could potentially leave the island cutoff from the mainland.

Moving forward, a new one year project that began this summer will continue to study the affects of climate change on Island reserves. The project has received funding at the federal level from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and is being conducted through the Mi’kmaq Confederacy. That study will include a forest fire index assessment, erosion survey and assessment and LiDAR imagery for Lennox Island and Hogg Island. In the next two years, further studies will be done that will include an archaeological risk assessment, developing a climate change based environmental emergency plan and evaluate the costs and benefits of climate change adaptation options.

As a First Nations member, Natalie Knockwood said she feels it’s her responsibility to care for the whole of PEI, not just Lennox Island and asked why Island reserves were being treated as separate entities.

Mr Jardine explained the climate lab does conduct studies for the rest of PEI as well, but admitted there isn’t a whole lot of funding available for since research. The Mi’kmaq Confederacy applied for the funding for these projects through INAC, which provides funding specifically for Canadian reserves.

“This work that we are describing is not being done for all of PEI, it’s just being done for the reserves. You’re getting special treatment in a sense because you’re getting special focus on your territories,” said Mr Jardine.

Ms Knockwood agreed with Mr Labobe then that politicians need to be attending these meetings.

“This isn’t just a Lennox Island problem, it’s not just a Rocky Point problem, Scotchfort problem, a Morell problem, it’s a whole Prince Edward Island problem and we all need to get on the same bandwagon in order for things to change here,” she said, “We can do things here in our First Nations community, but what about all of PEI? What all of PEI does affects us in our First Nations communities... We’re at risk. Is the government of PEI going to allocate us land somewhere else for our community... Those are the questions we have that need to be answered.”

At the end of the meeting, as part of the new study, Mr Jardine asked those in attendance to identify and prioritize which climate change risks they see as important to their community. Residents did so by placing coloured flags on a poster taped to the gym wall. Given red, blue, yellow and green, each flag was assigned a point value, red equally four points and green equally one point. Issues included vulnerability to inland flooding and storm water runoff, sea level rise, coastal erosion and flooding, vulnerability of cultural and archaeological sites, vulnerability of traditional fishing and hunting areas, vulnerability of infrastructure and more.

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