The sliver of land connecting an entire province to the rest of Canada could be flooded in the next two decades, making Nova Scotia an island.
More than 250 years ago, French colonists known as the Acadians built dikes between two provinces on Canada’s east coast, transforming marshland in between them into farmland. That land, protected by the dikes, currently connects the peninsula of Nova Scotia to the neighbouring province of New Brunswick.
But now, rising sea levels and storm surges are threatening those aging dikes.
“It’s not a question of if the dikes will be breached, it’s simply a question of when,” David Kogon, the Mayor of Amherst, a town on the Nova Scotian side of the border, told CBC urging the government to rebuild the dikes. He estimated Nova Scotia could become an island in the next two decades.
There’s been a 20 centimetre increase in sea level rise measured at the port of St. John, New Brunswick, the mayor of Sackville, New Brunswick John Higham told CBC.
Flooding from rising sea levels would cut off transportation from national highways and railways, costing an estimated $50 million a day in lost commerce, according to a 2016 study by Natural Resources Canada, a government body, analyzing the impacts of climate change on Atlantic Canada.
“The extent of damage of a major flood event on the isthmus will ripple across Canada, hugely affect our two provinces, and will be devastating to local governments,” municipal leaders wrote in a letter to provincial and federal politicians, requesting a meeting to address the dikes.
If flooding cuts off transportation, it would also affect food security. Nova Scotia has most of its food trucked in via the Trans Canada Highway, making food prices higher than other areas of Canada. Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country — second only to Nunavut, according to a 2014 University of Toronto study.
“The cost of food, affordability, is going to suffer [if transportation is cut off],” Lord Abbey, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who studies food issues, told VICE News. “It will have a very big impact on our food supply system and food security.”
In the long term, rising oceans will also make Nova Scotia’s soil more acidic, threatening both agriculture and sources of freshwater, Abbey added.
Nova Scotia as a land mass is also sinking at a rate of 16 centimetres per century, adding to the sea level rise risk, according to local scientists and planners.
Worldwide, sea levels could rise by as much as 1.3 metres above current levels by the end of the century if more is not done to address climate change, according to a recent paper by the University of Melbourne in Australia. But that can be prevented, the paper says, if politicians meet the Paris Climate Accord’s goal of keeping global warming below two degrees past pre-industrial levels.
While world leaders debate how to move forward on Paris climate commitments at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, New Brunswick’s department of transportation told CTV it is working with the mayors to come up with a plan to fix the dikes.