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Exploring the wonder, mystery of Sable Island

Several hundred wild horses live on Sable Island. Their population is just one of the topics to be discussed at the Sable Island Conference being held later this month.
Rae Anne LaPlante
Several hundred wild horses live on Sable Island. Their population is just one of the topics to be discussed at the Sable Island Conference being held later this month. Rae Anne LaPlante

The Friends of Sable Island Society is exploring the wonder and mystery surrounding the stretch of isolated sand from the comfort of the mainland.

Its second conference, the Science and History of Sable Island, is set for Oct. 20 - 21 and has attracted more than 15 presenters from across the country.

“Many people aren’t going to get the actual experience of visiting Sable Island in their lifetime,” says member of Friends of Sable Island Alison DeLory, adding the island is not easy to access sitting about 290 kilometres southeast of Halifax in the Atlantic Ocean.

“One of our goals through the conference is to bring the experience to them,” she says. “We want everyone to feel as excited about the island as those who get to visit.”

The conference keynote speaker is Karen Prentice, whose late husband Jim Prentice played a major role in getting the national park status of Sable Island in 2013 when he was the federal environment minister. “It was under his drive and leadership that it happened,” says DeLory. “Karen is a wonderful and powerful speaker and is going to give us the context around how it came to be Canada’s 43rd national park.” A presentation by researcher and sailor William Barton about Sable Island’s shipwrecks will be one of Saturday’s highlights, according to DeLory. Barton will talk about the more than 350 vessels that have been wrecked because of rough seas, fog and hidden sandbars around the island.

“As a sailor, I think he will bring a particular focus to this because he cares for mariners and their safety, which gives him that personal invested passion as well as deep curiosity,” DeLory says.

DeLory expects the conference will attract a number of academics like historians and oceanographers, but she encourages anyone interested in the island to attend.

“It has a wide appeal to people who love storytelling because there is so much mystery that surrounds the island, which I think is part of its charm and beauty,” she says.

Although Sable Island is well known for its hundreds of wild horses, DeLory says the conference will showcase some of its many other unique traits, including its habitat for the Ipswich sparrow.

“It’s the only breeding ground for the sparrow in the entire world,” she says. “They go there, nest, have babies and then fly off to Ipswich.”

When DeLory visited the island for the first time this past summer, she says she was particularly fascinated by its topography.

“I was blown away by the beauty of the plants,” she says.

“Because the island is all sand and no soil, there is one stubby tree on the whole island but there is this beautiful array of wildflowers, irises, lilies in the ponds and there are beach peas and bayberries.”

The conference is being held at the Doubletree by Hilton Halifax Dartmouth. Prentice’s presentation on Friday night is free to attend, however participating in Saturday’s events costs $60 and includes lunch. Online registration through the conference Eventbrite page is suggested for both days.

To learn more about the conference, visit sableislandfriends.ca.

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