Sable Island

Nov 20, 2012, 7:00AM EST
Sable Island
Graveyard of the Atlantic

 Sable Island is a tiny speck in the North Atlantic about 100 miles southeast of Nova Scotia.  Shaped like a very thin crescent moon, it is 26 miles long, but less than a mile wide at its widest point.  The highest elevation of its sand dunes is approximately 12 feet.  Situated on the edge of the continental shelf, it lies near the great circle route between ports in northern North America and northern Europe.  Frequent fog and storms in the vicinity have resulted in over 350 documented shipwrecks on or adjacent to Sable Island.  The island was first recorded by the Portuguese explorer João Alvares Fagundes in 1520, but was probably known to Portuguese fishermen previously.  Some years later, a French attempt to colonize the island failed.  Fishermen, sealers, shipwreck survivors, and wreckers lived on the island intermittently in subsequent years, but the first permanent human settlement began in 1801 with the establishment of a life-saving station by the Government of Nova Scotia.  With the Confederation of Canada in 1867, the central government assumed control of the station and two lighthouses were erected on opposite ends of the island in 1872.  The earliest recorded shipwreck on Sable Island was that of the ship Delight in 1583, part of the Humphrey Gilbert expedition to claim and settle the coast of Newfoundland and vicinity.  The last major shipwreck was that of the Manhasset in 1947.  The life-saving station was decommissioned some years later as it was apparent that mariners had learned how to avoid the treacherous island.  Horses were introduced to Sable Island at about the time that the life-saving station was established.  There are now about 400 feral horses roaming the island.  The island is a National Park Reserve and may be visited only with the prior approval of the Canadian Coast Guard.  The only permanent occupants of the island are employees of Environment Canada who operate the Sable Island Station, gathering meteorological and environmental data.  Natural gas has recently been located offshore, leading to creation of the Sable Offshore Energy Project, a consortium that produces between 400 and 500 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.  

 
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