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Visitors to national parks can now take 'coasties' to track coastal erosion

Visitors to some Parks Canada locations can now be a part of the organization's research into coastal erosion by taking a so-called coastie.

Visitors to some Parks Canada locations can now be a part of the organization's research into coastal erosion by taking a so-called coastie.

The agency recently launched a citizen science program called the Coastie Initiative to encourage visitors to five national parks to take a photo of the coast using their smartphones. The results will help Parks Canada monitor coastal changes over time.

The initiative was pitched by Parks Canada climate change specialist Garrett Mombourquette, who says the pictures will be used to track coastal erosion, dune crest movement, ice presence near shore and vegetation after extreme weather.

Mombourquette said though he came up with the idea as part of the agency's innovation competition last year, the term "coastie" can be attributed to his colleague Kim Gamble.

"I was sitting in the office when I received the news that we were successfully funded and immediately leapt out of my chair and asked Kim across the cubicle, ‘What would you call this kind of thing?’ And she said, without missing a beat, 'When you take a photo of yourself, that's a selfie. So when you take a photo of the coast, that's a coastie.' And we thought, well, that's too perfect."

Now visitors to some Parks Canada locations across the country can try their hand at taking a coastie.

Phone cradle stations have been set up at Fundy National Park and Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick, Sable Island National Park Reserve in Nova Scotia, Point Pelee National Park in Ontario and Prince Edward Island National Park.

Once the photos are sent to the project's website,, researchers at the University of Windsor will overlay the pictures on top of a map, allowing them to quantify coastal changes.

The project's aim is to provide "perspective on the relationship between these variables in light of the fact that we're in an era of rapidly accelerating environmental change," Mombourquette said.

He added that so far, researchers have observed in P.E.I. National Park that nearshore ice is declining, and without the natural barrier it provides, they expect that erosion in the winter months will increase. These images will help them test the hypothesis.

And in the last 20 years, coastal erosion in P.E.I. has accelerated. Between 2000 and 2010,the shoreline was eroding at an average rate of 79 centimetres a year; between 2010 and 2020, that average rose to 118 centimetres of erosion annually. 

"Because of the park's unique history being that much of the land was former agricultural land and had been tilled, this disturbed soil rapidly erodes when it's exposed to storm surges," Mombourquette said.

Tracking coastal changes also has other practical applications, said Robin Davidson-Arnott, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Guelph.

"On the Island on the whole and in much of the northeast coast, they're dealing with quite rapid erosion combined with the impact of climate change," said Davidson-Arnott. "When you develop your plan for the park, you've got to look at what's going to happen 10, 20, 30 years down the line."

Mombourquette's hope is for the stations to be left up indefinitely, while more coastie stations are expected to be added in national parks in 2022, to ensure as much data as possible is collected.

"The longer these stations are up, and the longer we're able to monitor these variables ... the more we will learn and the better off we'll have been for implementing this in the first place," he said. "I hope that my grandchildren will be taking coasties."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press

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