Is Sable Island national park a natural disaster?

Tourism vs protection: A proposal to give the remote Nova Scotia island park status raises environmental concerns.

Should Sable Island become a tourist attraction? Earlier this month, federal environment minister Jim Prentice sparked a controversy when he announced the government is considering making the remote island off Nova Scotia's coast a national park. The idea of herding tourists onto the island raises concerns about putting its fragile ecosystem at risk.

Parker Donham of Contrarian.ca, well-known locally as a columnist and commentator, started a "Hands Off Sable Island" Facebook group, which has over 2,000 members. And the national park announcement surprised environmental groups, including the Sable Island Green Horse Society, which is dedicated to educating the public about the ecologically sensitive island.

Sable Island is currently protected under the Canada Shipping Act and, in practical terms, by its location and treacherousness. It takes dedication, money and expertise to land a boat or plane there. The island's few visitors are greeted by a handful of staff scientists, who guide them lightly.

But Mark Butler, policy director at the Ecology Action Centre, sees advantages to a national park designation, if implemented properly. National parks come with money, which would allow scientists to continue their research. It could also mean a Sable Island interpretive centre in Halifax.

"There are national parks in the north with very limited infrastructure," Butler says. "It's possible to do it without it being an amusement park."

The EAC is waiting to see a management plan before it takes a position on the matter, but Butler has issues with the process. "They're assigning a task force to make the decision before consulting the public. The public should make the decision."

The Green Horse Society is hosting a public meeting about all things Sable Island, 7pm Wednesday, March 3, at Saint Mary's University.

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