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Coordinates: 43°57′00″N 59°54′57″W / 43.95°N 59.91583°W / 43.95; -59.91583

Sable Island
île de Sable
—  Station  —
Island from Space Shuttle, April 1994. Oriented clockwise through 225 degrees, i.e., north is in the lower left corner.
Sable Island is located in Nova Scotia
Sable Island
Location of Sable Island, Nova Scotia
Coordinates: 43°57′0″N 59°54′57″W / 43.95°N 59.91583°W / 43.95; -59.91583
Country  Canada
Province  Nova Scotia
Municipality Halifax Regional Municipality
District 13
Founded 1521
Area (Island)
 - Land 34 km2 (13.1 sq mi)
Population (2008)
 - Total 5
 - Density 0.14/km2 (0.4/sq mi)
Time zone AST (UTC-4)
 - Summer (DST) ADT (UTC-3)

Sable Island (French: île de Sable) is a small Canadian island situated 180 km southeast of mainland Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Ocean. As of 2008, the island is a year-round home to approximately five people (four Environment Canada station personnel and one resident researcher). In summer, this number swells to include seasonal contractors, research scientists, photographers, and others. The island is notable for its population of feral horses, known as Sable Island Ponies. Sable Island is protected under the Canada Shipping Act, which means that permission must be obtained from the Canadian Coast Guard to visit the island. Sable Island is part of District 13 of the Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia.



The Portuguese explorer João Álvares Fagundes and his expedition, who explored this region in 1520–1521, were among the first Europeans to have encountered the island. It is likely that he named the island Fagunda after himself,[1] but the identification of Sable Island with Fagunda is not certain.[2] A brief attempt at colonization at the end of the 16th century by France using convicts failed. The island was inhabited sporadically by sealers, shipwreck survivors, and salvagers who were known as "wreckers". A life-saving station was established on Sable Island by the government of Nova Scotia in 1801 and its life-saving crew became the first permanent inhabitants of the island. Two lighthouses, one on the eastern tip and one on the western tip were built in 1872.[3] Until the advent of modern ship navigation, Sable Island's two light stations were home to permanent lighthouse keepers and their families, as well as the crewmembers of the life-saving station. In the early 20th century, the Marconi Company established a wireless station on the island and the Canadian government similarly established a weather station.

Although the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) first automated and eventually decommissioned the light stations, Environment Canada and DFO conduct routine atmospheric and meteorological studies from a permanently occupied station on Sable Island because of its unique isolated geographic position down-wind from the North American mainland. Sable Island is specifically mentioned in the British North America Act 1867, Part 4, Section 91 as being the special responsibility of the federal government ("...the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to [...] 9. Beacons, Buoys, Lighthouses, and Sable Island."). For this reason it is considered a separate amateur radio "entity" (equivalent to country for award credit) and the occasional operators who visit use the special callsign prefix CY0.

Out of concern for preserving the island's frail ecology, as well as sovereignty purposes, all visitors to the island, including recreational boaters, require specific permission from CCG. The Canadian Forces continuously patrol the area using aircraft and naval vessels, partly due to the nearby presence of natural gas and oil drilling rigs and an undersea pipeline. Sable Island's heliport contains emergency aviation fuel for search and rescue helicopters, which use the island to stage further offshore into the Atlantic. Should the need arise, the island serves as an emergency evacuation point for crews aboard nearby drilling rigs of the Sable Offshore Energy Project.

The island is a part of the Halifax Regional Municipality, the federal electoral district of Halifax, and the provincial electoral district of Halifax Citadel, although the urban area of Halifax proper is some 300 km or 190 mi away on the Nova Scotian mainland.


The island is home to over 300 free-roaming feral horses which are protected by law from human interference. The best evidence for the origin of the horse population is that they are descended from horses confiscated from Acadians during the Great Expulsion and left on the island by Thomas Hancock, Boston merchant and uncle of John Hancock.

In the past, excess horses were rounded up and shipped off the island for use in coal mines on Cape Breton Island or to be sold, but the Government gave full protection to the horse population in 1960, and they have been left alone ever since. No human is allowed to interfere with any of the island's wildlife because it is a wildlife preserve and is protected by the Canadian government.

Sable Island ponies.

Harbour and Grey seals breed on the island's shores. Seal counts from the 1960s for the grey seal population estimated 200–300 pups born at that time on the island, but surveys from as recent as 2003–2004 estimated the number of pups born in that season at 50,000.[4] The seals are occasionally predated by the various shark species that inhabit the waters nearby, including the Great White Shark.[5]

Several large bird colonies are resident, including Arctic terns and Ipswich sparrows. The latter, a subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow, breeds only on Sable Island. Many other species of birds are found on the island—some are intentional visitors, migratory or otherwise, and some are small birds that have been blown out to sea in violent storms and have been fortunate enough to find themselves on dry land again.

There is a species of freshwater sponge (Heteromeyenia macouni) found only in ponds on the island.


Sable Island

Sable Island is a narrow crescent-shaped sandbar with a surface area of about 34 km². Despite being nearly 42 km long, it is no more than 1.5 km across at its widest point. It emerges from vast shoals and shallows on the continental shelf which, in tandem with the area's frequent fog and sudden strong storms including hurricanes and nor'easters, have caused over 350 recorded shipwrecks. It is often referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic[6], as it sits astride the great circle route from North America's east coast to Europe. The nearest landfall is 160 kilometres to the northwest near Canso, Nova Scotia.

Sable Island was named after its sandsable is French for "sand". It is covered with grass and other low-growing vegetation. In 1901, the federal government planted over 80,000 trees on the island in an attempt to stabilize the soil; all died. Sable Island is believed to have formed from large quantities of sand and gravel deposited on the continental shelf near the end of the last ice age. The island is continually changing its shape with the effects of strong winds and violent ocean storms. The island has several freshwater ponds on the south side between the station and west light and a brackish lake named Lake Wallace near its centre.


There are frequent heavy fogs in the area due to the contrasting effects of the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream: on average there are 127 days out of the year that have at least 1 hour of fog. During winter months, the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream can sometimes give Sable Island the warmest temperatures in Canada.

Weather data for Sable Island
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 14.5
Average high °C (°F) 2.8
Average low °C (°F) -3.5
Record low °C (°F) -19.4
Precipitation mm (inches) 146.4
Source: Environment Canada[7] 2009-07-16


Sable Island is famous for its large number of shipwrecks. An estimated 350 vessels are believed to have fallen victim to the island's sand bars. Thick fogs, treacherous currents, and the island's location in the middle of a major transatlantic shipping route and rich fishing grounds account for the large number of wrecks. The first recorded wreck was in 1583, with the second-to-last occurring in 1947. The last vessel to wreck on Sable Island was a yacht, the sloop Merrimac in 1999.[8] The construction of two lighthouses on each end of the island in 1873 probably contributed to the decrease in the number of shipwrecks.

Few wrecks are visible on the island as the ships are usually crushed and buried by the sand.[9] The large number of wrecks have earned the island the nickname "Graveyard of the Atlantic"[10][11], although the phrase is also used to describe Cape Cod and the Outer Banks area of North Carolina.

Sable Island station

Sable Island station

The Sable Island Station is the only permanently staffed facility on the Island. The Sable Island Station is managed and staffed by Environment Canada. Climatological record-keeping on Sable Island began in 1871 with the establishment of the Meteorological Service of Canada, and has been continuous since 1891.

Sable Island is the subject of extensive scientific research. A wide range of manual and automated instruments are used at the Sable Island station, including the Automatic Weather Observing System operated by the Meteorological Service of Canada, an aerology program measuring conditions in the upper atmosphere using radiosonde that is carried aloft by a hydrogen-filled balloon to altitudes beyond 35 km, and a program collecting data on background levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), which began on the island in 1974. Research is done on Sable Island to monitor the long-range transport of pollution aerosols. Fog chemistry is studied, examining the transport and composition of atmospheric toxins carried in fog. Tropospheric ozone is measured and is analyzed by researchers in Canada and the United States along with 20 other North American sites.

Britten-Norman Islander being unloaded on the beach at Sable Island

The installation of the BGS Magnetic Observatory on Sable Island was funded as a joint venture between the British Geological Survey, Sperry-Sun Drilling Services, and Sable Offshore Energy. The data collected at the observatory aid scientific research into rates of change of the Earth's magnetic field and increase the accuracy of the BGS Global Geomagnetic Model. Data from the geomagnetic observatory are used by the offshore energy industry for precise positioning activities such as directional drilling.

Supplies are delivered to the Sable Island Station about every two weeks by a Britten-Norman Islander fixed-wing aircraft, which lands on the Island's south beach. The Station Manager carefully selects a suitable landing area (with due consideration given to length and prevailing winds), tests it for firmness, and conveys this information to the flight crew before the Islander takes off from Halifax. Crew changes for the station personnel, which occur an average of every three months, are also accomplished in this manner.

There are only two people who have been born on Sable Island since 1920.[12] In the 2006 Canadian federal election media coverage, the Canadian Press reported a 100% voter turnout for Sable Island, with six ballots from all six permanent residents retrieved by the returning officer by Coast Guard helicopter.

One of the island's most notable temporary residents was Nova Scotian author Thomas H. Raddall's early experiences on Sable Island (working at the wireless post) served as the inspiration for his novel The Nymph and the Lamp.[13]



  • A Dune Adrift: The Strange Origins and Curious History of Sable Island, by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle, ISBN 0-7710-2642-0, McClelland & Stewart, August 2004
  • Ethos of Voice in the Journal of James Rainstorpe Morris from the Sable Island Humane Station, 1801-1802, by Rosalee Stilwell, ISBN 0-7734-7663-6, Edwin Mellen Press, January 2001
  • Free as the Wind – Saving the Horses of Sable Island, text by Jamie Bastedo, illustrations by Susan Tooke, Red Deer Press, 2007
  • Sable Island, by Bruce Armstrong, ISBN 0-385-13113-5, Doubleday, July 1981
  • Sable Island Journals 1801-1804, by James Rainstorpe Morris, ISBN 0-9689245-0-6
  • Sable Island Shipwrecks: Disaster and Survival at the North Atlantic Graveyard by Lyall Campbell, Nimbus pub., ISBN 1-55109-096-1, December 2001
  • Wild and Beautiful Sable Island, Pat Keough et al., ISBN 0-9692557-3-X, Green Publishing, September 1993
  • Wild Horses of Sable Island, by Zoe Lucas, ISBN 0-919872-73-5, Firefly Books Ltd., August 1992

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SABLE ISLAND, an island of Nova Scotia, Canada, iio m.

S.E. of Cape Canso, in 43° 56' N. and 60° W. It is composed of shifting sand, and is about 20 m. in length by 1 m. in breadth, rising in places to a height of 85 ft. In the interior is a lake about 10 m. in length. At either end dangerous sandbars run out about 17 m. into the ocean. It has long been known as " the graveyard of the Atlantic ";"; over 200 known wrecks have been catalogued, and those unrecorded are believed greatly to exceed this number. The coast is without a harbour and liable to fogs and storms; irregular ocean currents of great strength sweep round it, and its colour makes it indistinguishable until close at hand. Since 1873 an efficient lighthouse system and life-saving station has been maintained by the Canadian government, and the danger has been much lessened. Since 1904 it has been connected with the mainland by wireless telegraphy. The island is constantly changing in shape, owing to the action on the sand of wind and wave, and tends to diminish in size. Since 1763, when taken over by Britain, it has shrunk from 40 m. in length to 20, from 22 in breadth to 1, and from 200 ft. in height to 85; since 1873 the western lighthouse has thrice been removed eastward. As this makes navigation still more dangerous, the Canadian government has planted thousands of trees and quantities of root-binding grass, and the work of destruction has been somewhat stayed. Wild fruits grow plentifully during the summer, and cranberries are exported. Wild ducks, gulls, and other birds nest in large numbers, and a native breed of ponies has long flourished.

Sable Island, estimated as being then over loo m. in length, was known to the early navigators under the name of Santa Cruz. Early in the 16th century horses were left on its shores by the Portuguese, and the native ponies, supposed to be their descendants, are still exported. In 1598 a band of convicts were left by the marquis de la Roche, but in 1603 the survivors were restored to France.

See Rev. Geo Patterson in Transactions of Royal Society of Canada (1894 and 1897).

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