Ocean Sanctuary is a unique and captivating natural habitat located in West Port L’Hebert in South-western Nova Scotia. The “South Shore” of Nova Scotia is an area renowned for stunning ocean vistas and captivating natural beauty. Comprising 83.25 acres, the habitat has waterfront on both ends extending from the Atlantic Ocean (Port L’Hebert Harbour) to the shores of a freshwater inland lake (Haley Lake).
The ocean side of the habitat is located within Port L'Hebert Harbour, which draws its name from an apothecary who sailed with Samuel de Champlain in 1604. The terrain ranges from a granite shoreline (which includes a number of massive granite boulders) to an expansive saltwater marsh known locally as “Big Meadow Creek”. The marsh is an important breeding ground and habitat for birds and other wildlife. A variety of trees, bushes and native shrubs complete the picture including native wild roses. The lake end of the habitat is more heavily forested and includes mature stands of native trees including Eastern White Pine. The lake shoreline is granite rock similar to the ocean side.
Unspoiled and in its natural state, Ocean Sanctuary is home to a wide variety of animal and bird life and is so named owing to two neighboring Migratory Bird Sanctuaries - The Port L’Hebert MBS (est. 1941 comprising 860 acres) and the Haley Lake (est. 1980 comprising 250 acres). The Port L’Hebert tidal basin (within the Port L’Hebert Migratory Bird Sanctuary) is an important home to migrating and wintering Canada Geese populations. Great Blue Herons, American Black ducks, Harlequin ducks, Green-winged teal, Common Goldeneye, Willets, Terns, Osprey and Eagles are also common. The Ocean Sanctuary has five distinct zones of natural habitats which makes it unique and special.
The main species in the canopy are Balsam Fir and Red Maple as well as some scattered old White Pine trees. Due to the short lifespan of the Balsam Fir, there are lots of dead and fallen trees that offer a habitat for an abundance of insects and fungi. This Zone is located right on the shore of Haley Lake and winds have further opened up the canopy. Many red maple and white pine trees offer with their cavities, seams and broken branches nesting opportunities for multiple species of birds. The multi-storied canopy is well structured and in the open areas lots of regeneration (fir, spruce, pine, some larch) has been established. Aside from the different types of shrubs and herbs (e.g. blueberry, huckleberry, lambkill etc.) many different types of moss and lichen have been found. What makes this zone special is the high abundance of old man’s beard.
This zone covers the entire hill and slope section of the area, which is most likely of glacial deposition. Although the soil is on the poorer end, hardwood trees like red oak, white birch and red maple dominate. The Red oak tree offers valuable support for wildlife species including small mammals, bear, ruffed grouse and deer. Red maple regenerates quickly as coppice and is a favored browse by deer and moose. Mature red maple flowers provide one of the most important early and abundant pollen and nectar sources for a wide range of insects. Oak is the preferred host of maitake mushroom. Ericaceous shrubs, as well as mayflower, teaberry, round leaf pyrola, bracken fern, pink lady’s slipper and princes’-pine are abundant in the area.
This woodland is at the bottom of the slope and is characterized by scattered black spruce, white and red pine, exposed bedrock, stony and shallow soils and prominent reindeer lichen. The Black spruce / Lambkill / Reindeer lichen ecosystem is unique to the east coast and is relatively rare in Nova Scotia.
This zone covers several micro ecosystems that are all influenced by one common feature: water. Due to the topography, a swamp/ wetland has formed in the western side of this area that drains via a brook eastwards. The swamp is surrounded by several different vegetation types flourishing with the abundance of fresh water supply. These types of forests make important contributions to landscape diversity, carbon and water budgets. This area provides habitat for numerous plants, lichens, invertebrates and vertebrates (including moose, spruce grouse, rusty blackbird, swamp and Lincoln’s sparrows, wood turtle and several amphibians).
This rocky shore is home to a great diversity of plants and animals. The plants that are most common on the rocky shore are the macroscopic (visible with the eye) algae or seaweed. These are classified according to their colour - brown, green, or red - and the specific locations in which they are found. Vascular plants such as Seaside-Plantain are found at the sea/ land interface. One such plant, Eelgrass, may be found inter-tidally in tide pools if the pools have accumulated enough sediments for the plants to take root. Other plants of the rocky shore are the attached micro-algae. The most common animals include snails like the periwinkles, whelks, nudibranchs (naked molluscs), limpets, and chitons.
Ocean Sanctuary is Sacred Groves' contribution to the Southwestern region of Nova Scotia that was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2001. It is one of only 18 ecosystems in Canada with this special designation.
The broad category of forests in Ocean Sanctuary is Acadian Group of Forests existing at different stages of succession. Zone 1 has mid to late successional softwood Vegetation Types, Zone 2 has early to mid successional hardwood Vegetation Types, and zone 3 has mainly edaphic climax associations with less than 30% tree coverage. Zones 4 and 5 are wetland and intertidal habitats respectively.
In the habitat, the occurance of Balsam Fir species is of special significance as it is reported to support boreal felt lichen, listed as endangered under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act and also under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
The habitat neighbours two Migratory Bird Sanctuaries The Port L’Hebert MBS and the Haley Lake. Port L’Hebert Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located in a shallow coastal inlet on the southeast shore of Nova Scotia. Two other Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, Port Joli and Sable River, are situated near Port L’Hebert and, together, these three sanctuaries support over 4,000 to 5,000 Canada geese each year. Along with these nearby protected areas, the Port L’Hebert Sanctuary supports over 40% of the wintering Canada geese in the Atlantic Provinces. Geese tend to arrive in the Port L’Hebert sanctuary in late September and remain until mid-March, with peak numbers occurring in late October to early November. Occasionally, during particularly cold winters, the waters in the sanctuary’s inlet freeze, causing the waterfowl using it to move to the nearby Sable River sanctuary.
The Port L’Hebert Migratory Bird Sanctuary is also an important resting, feeding and wintering area for American black ducks. Migrating birds of this species begin to gather in the sanctuary as early as late August with numbers exceeding 1,000 birds in late January to early February. Significant numbers of these migrants remain until early April. Other dabbling ducks (ducks that feed near the surface of the water) that can be found in the sanctuary, though in smaller numbers, include green-winged teal and northern pintail, which use the sanctuary during early fall. Diving ducks (ducks that dive below the surface of the water to feed) can also be seen in the sanctuary including common goldeneye, bufflehead, scaups, scoters and mergansers. These birds arrive in late fall and several hundred tend to remain throughout the winter.
This approach is in line with the ethos of (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) UN SDG 15 and also serves the objectives of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).
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