Protecting Sable Island

Sable Island National Park Reserve

Sable Island is a wild and remote island. The tips below will help ensure that your visit is memorable, safe, and sustainable.

Biosecurity measures

Biosecurity measures have been put in place to protect Sable Island and reduce the risk of introduction of any organic material including plants, seeds, soil and diseases.

What does this mean for someone travelling to Sable Island?

  • It means that any footwear that you will be using on the island should be cleaned and disinfected prior to your travel to the island. The disinfectant used by the Parks Canada is SABER VERT2Go, it is non-toxic and is an effective virucide/bactericide after 5 minutes. It should not discolour clothing and does not have a strong odour. 
  • The disinfectant will be available at the airport hangar and on the Island for visitors arriving by boat. Please ensure footwear is at least cleaned of soil, debris, etc. before arrival at the airport or boat. Please note: Expedition ships have established biosecurity procedures on board. 
  • If you would like to disinfect footwear yourself, any accelerated hydrogen peroxide product (like Virox), or Potassium peroxymonosulfate (like Virkon) is acceptable. 
  • No riding/horse care equipment or footwear worn on a horse farm is allowed on the Island. Clothing worn around horses must be machine washed or dry cleaned and stored for five days prior to arrival.
  • Please visually inspect your clothing (ie Velcro, zippers) and footwear for any obvious seeds or insects (e.g.  burdock, insects, spiders, ticks). 

Leave only footprints, take only pictures

In a national park, it is illegal to collect rocks, shells, animal specimens, plants, or cultural artefacts. Over time, removal of plants, shells, or other natural elements can have negative effects on the ecosystem of Sable Island. Sable Island has a rich history, with over 350 recorded ship wrecks since 1583 and continuous human habitation since 1801. Visitors will occasionally find artefacts from shipwrecks or old settlements on the island. We encourage you to photograph your findings, and report discoveries to Parks Canada personnel. Removal of any artefacts is not permitted.

Watch where you step

Sand dunes, held together and stabilized by vegetation, are vulnerable to disturbance. All activities, including foot traffic, are not permitted on steep dune slopes, whether those slopes are vegetated or not, since this can lead to dune collapse and blow-outs. Walking on stable vegetation is permitted, but please follow existing horse paths as much as possible.

There are quite a few plants on Sable Island that have very restricted distribution outside of Sable Island. Many of these grow in wet sites with lush vegetation, so please minimize your activities in these areas.

The hard-packed sand of the beaches is the easiest and best place to travel.

Keep the wildlife wild

The wild horses are Sable Island National Park Reserve's most famous feature. It is important to remember that the horses are wild animals and must not be harassed, interfered with, or fed. If you are approached by the horses, please back away and maintain a respectful distance from the horses so as not to interfere with their behaviour. Do not approach young foals. There have been a number of instances where people have been injured by horses. In all cases, humans were agitating the horses, trying to feed them, trying to pet them, or interfering in herd movements. Please be careful!

Grey seals are the most common large animal on the island, with large breeding colonies throughout the island for the pupping season of December and January. Up to 50,000 pups can be born in a given year. During the summer, their numbers are reduced but they are still common. Harbour seals are also year-round residents but are less numerous than Grey seals. They breed in May and June. This population is in decline and it is important to avoid disturbing them, either on vehicles or on foot. Seals can bite! Keep your distance, and avoid getting in their way.

There have been more than 350 species of birds recorded on Sable Island, with sixteen species breeding in the island’s various habitats. During spring and summer, care must be taken to avoid disturbing ducks, shorebirds, and sparrows nesting in the areas of heath and pond-edge vegetation. Tern colonies should be avoided on the dunes or on the open beaches during April through July. Both terns and gulls will aggressively defend their nests, and can injure humans. If you find yourself ‘under attack’ turn and leave the area immediately.

There are 18 varieties of shark found in the waters of the Scotian Shelf. You may notice that the beach contains carcasses of seals that bear evidence of shark predation. Swimming is currently not permitted on Sable Island for your own protection.

Pack in, pack out

Visitors are required to bring in all of the food and supplies that are required for their visit, including extra supplies to account for unexpected travel delays.

You will be required to pack out all of the garbage that you have brought to the island. Littering is strictly prohibited. Please pack accordingly.

To keep in mind

The following rules apply to all visitors to Sable Island:

  • Open-air fires such as beach fires, bonfires, and campfires are prohibited.
  • No pets are permitted.
  • Camping is not permitted.
  • Firearms are prohibited.

Respecting research projects

Sable Island has an ongoing tradition of research, which yields fascinating information about the island’s ecology and cultural history. While on the island, you might observe the delicate instrument field for weather and atmospheric monitoring at Main Station, researchers involved in Grey seal studies, monitoring of species at risk on the island, researchers collecting specimens for study, or archaeologists at work. If you are interested in learning more about ongoing research projects, please contact Parks Canada personnel.

If you find horse skulls or bones, walrus skulls or bones, beached whales, dolphins, or sea turtles, or any electronic tracking devices that have washed up on the beaches, please inform Parks Canada personnel of your discoveries. Photographs and locations of your observations would be helpful.

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