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On the beach: Changes in weather patterns affect creatures big and small

When Jeremy Coffin, owner of North Shore Surf Rescue, first became a surf guard on P.E.I. beaches 15 years ago, his primary concern was the safety of people in the water.

Now, two years after founding his own company, his employees’ training also includes time on the safety of the people who aren’t going into the water.

“We’ve had an increased focus on safe heat practices, recognizing and preventing heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion,” said Coffin.

Climate data for P.E.I. shows the Island is experiencing more hot days, in addition to fewer cold days and more windy days.

Coffin has noticed the increase in the number of hot days on P.E.I., and his safety concerns extend to his staff as well. He makes sure that they have enough water, shady places to take a break, and opportunities to get into the water to cool off.

jeremy coffin
Jeremy Coffin says he tries to make sure his employees have cool and shady places to take a break. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

“We’re definitely having real-world consequences of that right now,” he said.

Is something bugging you?

If you’re at the beach, or anywhere else outside for that matter, there’s something else you might notice about Island summers.

More mosquitoes.

In past Island summers, the typical time it takes for a mosquito to grow into an adult from the egg has been seven days. But when the weather gets hot that can be cut down to four days, said Agriculture Canada entomologist Christine Noronha.

Conditions are improving for these guys on P.E.I. (mycteria/Shutterstock)

“They complete the cycle really fast,” said Noronha.

“Because of that you’ll see more generations of mosquitoes in the year.”

With each generation the population grows, and that’s bad news for Islanders and tourists alike trying to enjoy P.E.I.’s great outdoors.

Pounding surf

Shoreline erosion is frequently raised as a consequence of climate change, but it can be difficult to measure.

Erosion from a particular event, such as post-tropical storm Dorian, is immediately apparent. But while more frequent and severe storms are a predicted consequence of climate change, no single storm can be tied to it.

And the cumulative effect of more days when the wind gusts higher than 50 km/h an hour, as climate data shows is happening on P.E.I., is even more difficult to measure.

At P.E.I. National Park, however, periodic aerial photographs of the shoreline at Cavendish have shown the impact.

“Coastal erosion rates have increased significantly since the park’s establishment in 1937,” said Garrett Mombourquette, a climate change specialist with Parks Canada.

Specialists at Parks Canada have used the aerial photographs to calculate the average erosion rates over the decades. In recent years, it has averaged close to a metre a year. In previous decades, it was closer to two-thirds of a metre.

There’s no way to hold back the ocean, so Parks Canada has responded by designing new infrastructure so it can be moved out of the way as the sea encroaches. This includes Parks Canada’s new bunkie, a camping shelter for visitors.

“As the shoreline erodes we can easily pick up and relocate these bunkies,” said Mombourquette.

pei national park bunkie
These bunkies being installed at P.E.I. National Park can be easily moved when the shoreline gets too close. (John Robertson/CBC)

“Part of the adaptation — the implementation of new, modular, small lightweight pieces of infrastructure that can be easily relocated.”

The hot weather is also having the obvious effect on operations at the park.

“With warmer weather, this can significantly increase visitation, traffic and congestion at beaches as visitors seek out places to swim and cool off in the heat,” he said.

This is forcing revisiting how to balance the two objectives of Parks Canada: to preserve natural habitats, and provide places where Canadians can enjoy the outdoors.

As crowds get bigger and beaches get smaller, it’s a balance that will only become more difficult.

Climate change now on P.E.I.

The pieces in this four-part series:

  • Monday, Dec. 28: Our new reality in data form: More windy days, fewer cold days, more hot days on P.E.I.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 29: How daily work is changing on P.E.I. as wind and temperature patterns shift
  • Wednesday, Dec. 30: On the beach: Changes in weather patterns affect creatures big and small
  • Thursday, Dec. 31: How P.E.I.’s farming and fishing industries are adapting to the new normal

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