DescriptionSubmerged sandbars and variable weather left Sable Island known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” More than 350 ships offshore have fallen prey to submerged sandbars over the years. The remote island, 161 kilometres (100 mi.) from Canso, also features freshwater ponds, rolling sand dunes, bands of wild horses and buildings adapted to the harsh environment.
Flora and fauna suited to the oceanic climate fill the 42-kilometre (26-mi.) crescent-shaped island. Though the shaggy Sable Island horses attract the most attention, some 350 bird species as well as numerous seal colonies can be seen. Grey seals breed in December and January, while the rarer Harbor seals breed in May and June. Offshore, more than 18 shark species occupy the Scotian Shelf.
European explorers sailed through starting in 1520, with Sable Island eventually hosting sealers, shipwreck survivors and salvagers, and even a penal colony. Residence on a more permanent basis began with a rescue station circa 1801 until technological advances reduced the number of shipwrecks. Now functioning mainly as a research and operational facility, the Main Station provides a year-round base for researchers, weather station technicians, archeologists and other personnel.
Access is challenging: The only way to Sable Island National Park Reserve is by air or sea with advance reservations. Day trips are most common, as there are limited visitor facilities. Vehicular travel is restricted to hard-packed sand and short stretches of roads. To ensure their safety, visitors are encouraged to share travel plans with personnel and carry either a marine radio or satellite phone.
Maritime Air Charter Ltd. offers air travel from Halifax Stanfield International Airport and lands on the south beach of Sable Island. As the planes fly by reservation only, weather permitting, the seven-seat plane must be chartered (approximately $5,000 plus tax); phone (902) 873-3330. A flight support fee of $500 for each fixed wing flight or $200 for each helicopter flight must also be paid to Parks Canada.
Boats face dangerous currents and sandbars. Reservations as well as regular in-transit communication with the station manager is required; phone (902) 482-8600 following registration and confirmation with Parks Canada.
Peak travel conditions occur mid-August to October, as fog can diminish visibility from late June through early August. Accommodations are limited and cost around $300 per person per night, pending availability. Labor fees for entry, exit and callout may range from $90-$180 per hour.
Note: As there is no cellphone coverage and weather conditions vary, visitors must bring additional supplies and medicine in case of travel delays; however, all belongings, including trash, must leave the island upon departure. Camping as well as fires, pets and firearms are prohibited. For more information, write to Parks Canada, c/o Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, P.O. Box 9080, Station A, Halifax, NS, Canada B3K 5M7 or phone (902) 426-1993.