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Melting ice is hastening erosion and destroying Canada’s Magdalen Islands

Residents are watching childhood memories, dreams, and futures get washed away into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The Islands that were once known to be a great vacation spot are becoming a major safety hazard. Ice that was once surrounding the Islands is melting and chunks of the islands are breaking off. 

The Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is home to many individuals and families who don’t know what the future will hold for their beloved homes. Families want this beautiful place to be available to tourists and their next generation of kids to enjoy. But that dream seems like a long shot, due to all the recent storms, flooding, and erosion. A recent report from The Washington Post told the stories of the concerned residents.

One resident described how winter in the gulf has changed over the years. “It used to be all ice, as far as the eye could see. . . . You’d lookout, and all you could see was white. Now you lookout, and it’s just the ocean,” Geraldine Burke, 72 told the Washington Post. “The changes I’ve seen in the last 10 years have been astounding.” 

Due to the rapid increase of temperature from global warming, the ice is thawing into water that will become part of the ocean. The archipelago itself is falling apart. The sea is consuming the land, and chunk by chunk the islands are shrinking. Year by year, the waters are getting closer and closer inland, causing many people to lose their homes. 

These islands have been inhabited since the 18th century when they were colonized by Acadian refugees.

The hospital is hanging out at the edge of one of the islands, and the erosion is threatening it, too. Contamination to the aquifers for the people living there is also at stake. Due to the rising sea levels, they might not have safe drinkable water. The people living there are scared for their next generation of children, they don’t know what condition the islands will be in, and whether it will still be able to support life. “This is home, and hopefully it will be here for a while. But I don’t know, it’s going quick,” Isabelle Cormier told the Washington Post. “To witness it in one lifetime, it’s shocking,”  She saw the sand dune that was shielding her home wash away in hours. 

Global warming has increased in the past few decades. Some places have seen greater increases than others. In the region of the Magdalen Islands, the temperature has increased by 2.3°C since the 19th century, according to the Post, which is twice the rate of the global average. This dramatic change has caused the winter season to be more dangerous than joyful. 

The ice that used to be surrounding the islands protected them from the ferocious stormy waters in the winter. Now there is nothing to stop the waves from eating at the land. “The presence of ice acts as a cover on the ocean that dampens the waves of winter storms,” Walt Meier told the post. He is one of the senior scientists at NASA’s National Snow and Ice Data Center. 

About 555 square miles (0.137143 acres) of ice are disappearing each year. 

Last November, there was a huge storm that took out the electrical systems, and communication throughout the islands. It also took out the islands sand dunes and destroyed main roads. Thankfully the military workers of Canada came to help out with the situation. Some other very bad storms have also eaten up 55 feet of the shoreline in just one go. 

Researchers have hypothesized that if there is no action taken to preserve the island’s overall condition, hundreds of structures on the islands will vanish due to the floods, storms, and erosion, in a couple of decades. “We can try adaptation. We must try it,” geography professor Guillaume Marie told the Post. “But the solutions could be very expensive.” The government did try to help by putting a temporary fix on the problem but it’s still couldn’t do much. 

“Not everything can be fixed; not everything can be saved,” municipal Planning Director Serge Bourgeois said. Just this problem alone will approximate costs up to $26 million dollars. “We need more money, more human resources, more help,” the mayor said. “With just the municipality alone, it’s impossible to protect the islands completely.” 

In September, Hurricane Dorian caused thousands of homes to lose power, busted holes in the stone cliffs, tossing the boats around and even ripping apart homes. “People are very emotional right now,” Mayor Lapierre said in a news conference after the storm. “It was a long night. Some probably haven’t slept and today are seeing their investments, their dreams and goals swept away.”

People are lost for words as they see their childhood memories disappear quicker than they hoped. Some are scared to adventure into their backyards because you will never know when a section will just fall into the raging ocean waves.  “This is home, and hopefully it will be here for a while,” resident Isabelle Cormier told the Post. “But I don’t know, it’s going quick.”

Image Credit: MICHEL BONATO/TOURISME ÎLES DE LA MADELEINE

1 comment on “Melting ice is hastening erosion and destroying Canada’s Magdalen Islands

  1. Pingback: Climate refugees are increasing

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