Interested in our environmental work? Click the links below to learn more about the projects that keep our Environment Department busy.
Climate Change Adaptation
Climate change is not a far-off threat for the coastal communities of Cape Breton; its impacts are felt here and now. Erosion, sea-level rise, and severe weather along the Atlantic coast threaten the homes and livelihoods of people living close to the island's edge. The concerns of coastal community members motivated ACAP Cape Breton to develop a community-based adaptation plan for populated areas along the Marconi Trail on the east coast of Cape Breton Island.
The project consisted of two components: scientific assessment of changes in the coast due to sea-level rise and erosion, and local knowledge from community members - what changes they have seen on the coast and what they are most concerned about.
We utilized historical aerial photographs to observe changes in the coast over the last several decades. Images of the coast from the 1930's, 1960's, and 1990's were analyzedusing GIS technology to show the rate and extent of erosion in key locations. This highlighted erosion hotspots that would be most in need of erosion mitigation measures. It also helped to areas that would be in danger of eroding in the future.
Erosion is not the only threat to coastal communities. Based on the most recent scientific data, sea level is predicated to rise .34m by the year 2050, and .82m by 2099 in some locations, which poses a risk of inundation for low-lying coastal areas. The CBRM Planning Department provided LiDAR elevation data and municipal shape-files which showed the location of roadways, buildings, and other structures as well as soil classifications along the Marconi Trail. Sea-level rise predictions were applied to these elevation models to determine which areas were at risk of inundation, storm-surges, and flooding.
All of this information was presented to community members at workshops held in Port Morien and Main-á-Dieu. We gathered feedback from attendees on what the map analysis showed and asked community members what areas of their community they were concerned about protecting. Stakeholders were interviewed to gather anecdotes about coastal changes they have observed, and large maps were printed for community members to visually identify areas of concern.
This feedback was used to guide recommendations for climate change adaptation measures. Recommended adaptation methods were presented to community members in a second series of workshops, during which stakeholders identified which measures they felt were most feasible and desirable in their area. This was a vital step to ensuring that the plan suited the communities it is intended for, since some adaptation measures require a maintenance commitment from community members.
Finally, responses from the community at all stages of the project were integrated with the information gained from GIS and LiDAR analysis to develop a climate change adaptation plan for the Marconi Trail. The climate change adaptation plan is a comprehensive document which includes information on a variety of topics, including: current adaptation measures by the municipality, current vulnerabilities and anticipated impacts in the target area, and proposed adaptation options. The report incorporates information gained from GIS and LiDAR analysis with input from community members in Main-á-Dieu and Port Morien to form a plan that uses sound science and proven methods to serve the needs of the communities along the Marconi Trail.This plan is meant to provide guidance for leaders within the community to prepare their homes and communities for future climate change impacts.
The full Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the Marconi Trail is available here.
We would like to thank the many partners that made this project possible, including The Main-á-Dieu Community Development Association, the Port Morien Development Association, and the CBRM Planning Department, and the workshop participants for their invaluable feedback.
This project was made possible through the financial support of Environment Canada.
Stemming Storm Water – ACAP Cape Breton's Rain Garden Initiative
Conserving and creating green space is becoming ever more important as urban centers expand. They provide habitat for birds and insects, help clean the air, and even have health benefits for humans. And with a bit of planning, they can also help to mitigate stormwater issues. Rain gardens are a small, step that anyone can take at home to help manage water in their city while adding to the curb appeal of their property. In summer 2014, ACAP CB toward improving stormwater treatment in the CBRM and educating homeowners about urban water issues with our Rain Garden Initiative.
Rain gardens are landscaped plant beds designed to capture and absorb rainwater. Rain that lands on impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads, and sidewalks runs off, picking up pollutants such as sediment, oil, and salt as it goes. These pollutants are carried to storm drains where they ultimately flow to the ocean. Rain gardens capture this run off, filter out the pollutants, and allow the water to infiltrate into soil instead. This helps to protect the health of our oceans as well as recharge our ground water supply.
Rain gardens are planted in slight depressions in the landscape so that water which flows into them is retained. This gives the water a chance to slowly sink into the soil. Rocks are often utilized to slow the flow of water where it enters the garden to prevent erosion and damage to the plants. Swales (small channels lined with rocks and grass) can be used to direct water into and out the garden in areas with especially heavy flows. The plants help to increase absorption of the rain water—and they look great!
The process of building a rain garden involves an initial site assessment, garden design, and finally planting. Site assessments were used to determine whether a site was suitable for a garden, and if so, what the garden specifications should be (size, depth, etc.). Rain gardens are not effective in areas with excessive slope, in soil with high clay content, or areas where the water table lies close to the surface. For suitable sites, a sketch of the garden design was then be produced to show the layout of the plants and where the garden would go on the property. Finally, the garden was dug, planted, and finished with rock.
Over the course of this project, ACAP CB planted 15 rain gardens throughout urban areas of the CBRM. Twelve of these were on residential properties, and the remaining three were planted in public areas. All of the gardens were built in the CBRM; most were in Sydney, with a few planted in North Sydney, New Waterford, Dominion, South Bar, and Coxheath. In addition, three hands-on rain garden workshops were held to help give homeowners the information needed to build their own rain garden.
In total, the gardens cover almost 80m2 and can infiltrate just over 11,000L of water in a rain event. We are grateful to all the homeowners who participated in this project for taking a small step toward a greener future!
For more information about rain gardens, see our brochure.
For more information about this project, see the project Final Report or contact Sarah at ACAP Cape Breton.
We are grateful to the RBC Blue Water Project for the donation that made this project possible.
Sowing the Seeds of Sustainable Community Gardens in Cape Breton
Community gardens have been growing in popularity in Cape Breton and abroad. They also have a variety of environmental, social, and economic benefits. The goal of this project was to provide community members with the knowledge they need to start and maintain a healthy, sustainable community garden. We held a series of workshops to build capacity within our local community and facilitate knowledge sharing among leaders skilled in farming, community gardening, and resource acquisition.
We held four workshops covering different aspects of community gardening. The first workshop included a talk from Len Vassallo (Blue Heron Farms), a local organic farmer about soil-building techniques and types of garden beds. After the talk, participants built a raised bed. The workshop was held at a community garden, and the raised bed was donated to this garden for them to use in years to come.
The second workshop focused on season extension. Len discussed how to start seeds indoors, cold resistant plants, and weather proof garden beds. Participants then added to the raised bed to create a low-tunnel which could grow plants into the fall. Afterward, they transplanted spinach into the low-tunnel.
The topic of the third workshop was ecological gardening. We took participants on a guided hike to introduce them to local native plants. ACAP project coordinator Jen Cooper pointed out plants which are friendly to pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. We assisted participants with seed collection and demonstrated how to control Angelica, a notoriously invasive plant.
The final workshop included a panel of local experts who shared their knowledge of how to start a community garden (Terry Gibbs, CBU; Kim MacPherson, Glace Bay Food Bank; Jody Nelson, Ecology Action Centre,Eric Levitan-Reid, Island Food Network, and Sarah Penney, ACAP Project Coordinator). They covered considerations for starting a community garden (e.g. site selection), proposal writing tips, the Island Food Network, and stories from two community garden coordinators.
The content of the workshops has been summarized into a booklet which covers the key information aspiring community gardeners will need.
The Community Gardeners Companion booklet is available online here.
To read the full project report, click here.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial contribution of the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
Breathing life into our coasts - Living Shorelines
A coastline in Eskasoni received a facelift summer 2015, with the planting of a Living Shoreline. Living Shorelines are a method of erosion mitigation that use natural techniques to stabilize the shoreline. These include planting grasses, shrubs, and trees to stabilize soil, adding hay to increase biomass and reduce slope grades, and weaving brush mats to protect exposed areas from wind and wave action.Living shorelines techniques are beginning to gain traction in place of traditional, structural methods. Structural shoreline protection measures (also called “hard” methods) usually involve placing rock or concrete structures on or near the shore to shield the ground beneath from wave action. This can disrupt the natural hydrogeological processes on a coastline (e.g. movement of water and sand). Although they protect the ground behind them, they can actually cause accelerated erosion on adjacent properties and destroy the habitat in front of them as the wave energy is reflected back off the hard stone.Living shorelines are meant to work with natural hydrogeological processes and avoid these negative impacts by using a “softer” (i.e. gentler) approach. In fact, they actually create and enhance habitat for birds, fish, snails, and other invertebrates while stabilizing and expanding the shoreline. In areas where they are applicable, they can also be much more cost-effective to build and maintain.Organizations in the United States have had great success implementing living shorelines approaches on their coastlines, and the Ecology Action Centre has been bringing visibility to living shorelines in Nova Scotia over the last several years. Now ACAP CB is excited to have brought living shorelines to Cape Breton with the help of our partners at Saint Mary’s University, Bras d’OR CEPI, UINR, and the Guardians.
Support for this project was provided by the Walmart-Evergreen Green Grants Program
Eastern Bras d'Or Erosion Project
The Eastern Bras d’Or Erosion Project was a one year monitoring and awareness initiative implemented by ACAP Cape Breton with financial support from Environment Canada. The focus of this project was to gather baseline information on coastal erosion in the Bras d’Or Lakes and to collect data on the status of freshwater streams flowing into this unique watershed. A target area, extending along the shore from the East Bay Sandbar to Hay Cove, was established for this study due to logistical constraints.
This project also entailed an education and awareness component centered on teaching landowners around the Bras d’Or Lakes about best practices for their coastal properties. A collaborative effort between ACAP Cape Breton, the Bras d'Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative (CEPI), and the Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) led to the creation of a user friendly best practices guide for landowners on the Bras d'Or. Bras d’Or residents were engaged to learn about topics such as coastal erosion, best practices for coastal landowners, and coastal planting at three information sessions. Finally, participants of the information sessions were able to register for free trees and shrubs to enhance the buffer zones of their coastal Bras d’Or Lakes properties.
For more information, please refer to the project’s final report available for download from the following link:
Stormwater Education, Awareness, and Management Project - STEAM
This summer, ACAP CB is launching full steam ahead into a pilot project to educate and empower homeowners to make the most of stormwater on their property. Stormwater is made up of rainwater and snow melt that runs off of roofs, lawns, and other surfaces. If it can be absorbed into the ground, it’s no problem; but in urban areas with limited exposed ground, it can cause flooding and strain on water management infrastructure.
ACAP Cape Breton began improving stormwater management in the CBRM last year with our rain garden program funded through the RBC Blue Water Project. In the process, we discovered that there was a need for stormwater management information and resources among local homeowners. Many people were interested in both capturing water for later use and learning how to mitigate issues caused by stormwater on their property. The STEAM project is intended to serve this need within our community.
The goal of the Stormwater Education, Awareness, and Management (STEAM) Program is to improve stormwater management in the CBRM through homeowner education and resource delivery. STEAM advisors will visit participants to discuss stormwater best practices, and give homeowners recommendations about specific actions that will allow them to take advantage of stormwater run-off at home. These may include installing a rain barrel, planting a rain garden, or disconnecting their sump-pump from the wastewater system.
This project will reduce the volume of water entering the city’s stormwater system, thereby reducing strain on infrastructure and the amount of polluted stormwater entering local waterways. We have been sharing information about water with the public for many years – from where your water comes from, to how it’s treated, to how to protect it. We are excited to expand the breadth of our education program and to bring water education right to your doorstep.
Stay tuned to our Facebook page, Twitter, and website for updates and information about how you can participate!
Sedimentation Impact Monitoring - 2013-2014
The Bras d’Or Lakes are a unique in-land sea ecosystem and now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Lakes are affected not only by activities taking place on its waters, but also by activities upstream on the many brooks and streams that flow into it. This project was designed to assess areas of ecological vulnerability in and around the East Bay of the Bras d’Or Lakes by determining the impact of sedimentation from freshwater sources and assessing the ecological integrity of freshwater habitats flowing into the lake.
Sedimentation is the end result of erosion. Forces of erosion such as flowing water, wave action, heavy rain events, and wind, act as a vehicle that suspends and transports small sediment particles (e.g. clay, silt, and sand) until they are confronted with a barrier. Once this occurs, the suspended particles settle and become deposits; this is the natural process of sedimentation. This process is undoubtedly influenced by human land use practices and aquatic habitat alteration. Since the Bras d’Or Lakes are a primarily closed system with numerous freshwater inputs, our activities around this watershed are almost certainly having an effect on sedimentation. Excessive sedimentation is associated with habitat degradation for both aquatic flora and fauna.
The health of freshwater habitat will be assessed by examining its inhabitants and connectivity. Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) protocol was used to enhance our understanding of the quality and health of these habitats by assessing invertebrate assemblages, water parameters, and physical characteristics of the stream environment. Connectivity of streams flowing into the Bras d’Or was investigated through culvert assessments, since these structures play a vital role in providing passage for fish and affect sediment transport. Sedimentation, faunal composition, and aquatic connectivity are interconnected, and examining all three leads to a comprehensive, ecosystem approach for understanding the impacts of freshwater input on the Bras d’Or Lakes.
The objectives of this project were:
Objective 1. Characterize and monitor sedimentation at the outflow of five brooks in East Bay. This was accomplished through direct sampling of offshore sediment and collecting characterizing parameters of streams suspected to be transporting sediment.
Objective 2. Determine the ecological integrity of stream habitats flowing into East Bay by assessing stream health and connectivity. Habitat quality was assessed using CABIN protocol and connectivity was measured using culvert assessments.
Five brooks with outflows into the East Bay of the Bras d’Or Lakes were selected for study: Breac Brook, MacIntyres Brook, McNeils Brook, Irish Cove Brook, and Campbells Brook. Stream characteristics pertaining to water quality (dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity, turbidity, and pH) were collected at bridge crossings on all five brooks. More detailed assessments of the stream were conducted at the outflows of three brooks (the remaining two brooks were not accessible). These included water quality measurements (as above), elevation profiles of the stream channel and beach, and substrate description.
Sediment flowing into the Bras d’Or Lakes from the five brooks in this study was also measured directly using sediment traps. With the help of Dr. Bruce Hatcher of Cape Breton University, sediment traps were deployed by boat near the outflows of the five streams of interest to measure sediment deposition. Smaller, in-stream sediment traps were also deployed in Breac Brook, Irish Cove Brook, and Campbells Brook.
Sediment traps were retrieved by boat about a month later. Dr. Hatcher’s laboratory at CBU was used to dry and ash the sediment to get an estimate of how much sediment and organic content was collected.
CABIN protocol was used to collect information on stream health of five brooks that have not been previously sampled using these methods. The streams selected were:
Breac Brook - Big Pond (N 45.91212° W 60.51520°)
Spruce Brook - Northside East Bay (N 46.00675° W 60.43654°)
MacLeods Brook - Johnstown(N 45.80504° W 60.72104°)
Soldiers Cove Brook -Soldiers Cove (N 45.69411° W 60.73297°)
Gillis Brook -Northside East Bay (N 46.02602° W 60.38499°)
CABIN sampling provides an excellent mechanism for determining stream health by looking at invertebrate assemblages, habitat characteristics, and water parameters. The data collected was entered into the national CABIN database.
Stream connectivity was measured by conducting thirty culvert assessments on streams flowing into East Bay. Culverts were assessed according to protocol developed by the Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP), and data was submitted to them for analysis by their aquatic connectivity experts. Of the culverts visited, seventeen were full barriers and seven were partial barriers; only three were not barriers to fish passage. A variety of remediation measures were recommended for these culverts, including installation of baffles and tail-water control structures, debris removal and total structure replacement.
This project was funded by the Environment Canada Atlantic Ecosystems Initiative.
White Nose Monitoring in Bats
White-nose Syndrome and ACAP CB’s Bat Monitoring ProjectWhite-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that has been decimating bat colonies all over North America.
Since its arrival in 2006, the disease has claimed the lives of over 5 million bats. The fungus infects bats while they are hibernating and wakes them up, causing them to prematurely use up the fat that sustains them through the winter months. They then begin a futile search for insects, their only food source, which ultimately leads to death due to starvation or exposure.During hibernation, a bat’s immune system is suppressed and its body temperature drops to that of the surrounding environment. This makes them the perfect target for Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the cold-loving fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
White-nose syndrome first arrived in Nova Scotia in 2011, and has wrecked havoc on bat populations on the mainland.
To monitor the health of bats in Cape Breton, ACAP Cape Breton began a bat monitoring project in 2013. This project includes four major components: summer monitoring, hibernacula monitoring, maternity colony counts, and public education.Ultrasonic Bat Monitoring.
As of summer 2013, no signs of white-nose syndrome had been detected in Cape Breton. To collect information about our bat populations in a healthy state, ACAP CB deployed ultrasonic bat detectors in several locations in eastern Cape Breton. Bats use echolocation to hunt and navigate at night, and the detectors take advantage of this by picking up the calls with a microphone and recording them.The monitors are deployed in spring or summer in locations which serve as bat habitat. We monitor a variety of habitat types, including forests, ponds, coasts, fields, and human-made structures. The detectors remain in these locations until late fall after bats have left their summer habitat, at which time they are relocated to potential hibernation sites.
Three sites were monitored in 2013 and five in 2014. Data collected over these two years of monitoring has helped us learn about activity level, species composition, and arrival/dispersal of bats in Cape Breton. A summary of what we have learned in each year of monitoring is available in our final reports which are available for download on this page.Hibernation Site MonitoringA bat hibernation site is called a “hibernaculum,” (pl. hibernacula). These are usually caves or mines where the temperature is relatively stable throughout the winter and they are protected from the weather. Starting in winter 2013, ACAP CB began a search for potential hibernation sites in Cape Breton. The hibernation sites of bats are mysterious anywhere, including Cape Breton; however, ACAP CB located and monitored two potential hibernation sites in winter 2013/14, and four sites in winter 2014/15. Listening in on bat hibernation sites helps us to determine whether bats are flying around inside or leaving the hibernaculum in search of food. High levels of activity in winter and a large number of bats leaving the hibernaculum are indicators of white-nose syndrome and bad news for our bats.
Unfortunately, white-nose syndrome has been confirmed in deceased bats found in Cape Breton; however, no signs of WNS have been detected in hibernation sites monitored by ACAP CB.Maternity ColoniesACAP CB is continuing to monitor summer bat activity in Cape Breton, and have also added maternity colony counts to our project. Maternity colonies are groups of mother bats and their babies roosting in houses or barns. Mother bats choose these sites because they are warm, comfortable, and protected—the same reasons humans do. The mother bats leave the roosts around sunset to feed so they can produce milk for their young. Bats can be counted quite easily as they leave the structure.
The biggest colony we have counted so far contained 260 mother bats! Public Educator ACAP Cape Breton hosts annual “Bat Walks” to introduce people to the world of bats. Our handheld bat detector that translates the ultrasonic calls of bats to an audible frequency allows participants to not only see bats but also hear them as they swoop through the night sky. The bat walks are held late in the summer, so check out our Twitter and Facebook pages in late summer for information about upcoming bat walks.
To report a bat sighting or a maternity colony in your home, call your regional Department of Natural Resources office.This project was made possible by the financial support of Environment Canada.For a full report on our bat monitoring project from 2013 see our Ultrasonic Bat Monitoring in Eastern Cape Breton – Final Report.PDFA full report on our bat monitoring project from 2014-15, Monitoring Seasonal Bat Activity, Maternity Colonies, and Hibernacula on Cape Breton Island, is available here.