Coastal Living - Nova Scotia's Ocean Playground - About our beautiful coast

Published 20 May 14 06:04 AM | Merv Edinger 

Many of us share the dream of enjoying a charming life awaking to the ocean vistas, the sound of crashing waves, swimming in the refreshing waters...

Nova Scotia's 13,000 kilometers ( km ) of coastline & ocean playground is a significant draw for residents & tourism alike. Did you know that 1 in 6 Canadians live within 20 kms of a marine coast. 70% of Nova Scotians live within 60 kms of the coast & 14% of our GDP ( gross domestic product ) is linked to coastal dependent livelihoods ( State of Coast, 2009 ). 

Coasts are very dynamic systems - moving & shifting over the course of a season, a year or even decades.  There are different types of coastal ecosystems, each vital to the survival & ongoing enjoyment of our province. Though we tend to think of coastal property as a fixed parcel of land, it is actually part of a wider ecosystem which is connected to the rest of the coast & can't be considered in isolation. All coatlines are formed through coastal processes such as accretion, erosion, transportation & deposition.  The accretion & erosion of one portion of shoreline creates the sandy beaches, where we spend those hot Summer days, elsewhere along the coast.

Nova Scotia ( NS ) offers 6 general types of coast lines & 13 distinct ecosystem types, each playing a significant role in our enviroment & which people also use for residential, industrial, & recreational purposes.  They provide livelihoods for those involed in the agriculture, forestry, the fisheries, & tourism.

Beaches - are relatively small portions of the overall coastline.  In Nova Scotia, they only make up .6% of the total 13,000 kms of the coastline or 6,480 ha. They are important for wildlife, as storm buffers as they dissipate wave energy, their sand dunes protect the beaches from being washed away.  They are also very susceptible to damage by humans. Nova Scotia Legislation has a Beaches Act to protect  ( 38.6% are of their area is protected by government ) particuliarly sensitve beaches & their ecosystems. They are considered to be at a high sensitivity & risk for potential harm. Of course, these are the areas where most want to live by or vacation at making the perceived value of such lands very desireable.  Nova Scotia does have some very beautiful sandy beaches for you to enjoy, responsibly.  In fact, the beaches along the North Shore of NS claim to fame are that they offer the warmest ocean waters north of the Carolinas.  For a list of Nova Scotia's 61 beaches, please visit



Salt Marshes / Wetlands are subject to tidal influence, have unique vegetation & soil.  They are among the most productive ecosystems & are often thought of as the " kidneys of the coastyline " as they filter out pollutants, are often nurseries for many varities of fish, create habitats for a variety of wildlife, & the decaying marsh vegetation provides nutrients to the fish & varitety of flora.  For more on the importance of these ecosystems & the flora & fauna they support, please visit


Rocky shores' slow erosion creates those sandy beaches mentioned above. Amongst those rocks are miniature localized ecosystems. Much of the plants that grow in these areas are extrememly slow growing and can centuries to develop.


Estuaries & Mudflats are also highly productive ecosystems, exchanging nutrients as freshwater rivers and streams mix with the salt water tides.  Human activities upstream can send pollution downstream into the estuaries making them highly sensitive.  They make up 205,500 ha of our province & only 28 ha are currently protected.  These areas also may include Eel Grass meadows which are the basis of marine  productivity providing erosion protection & habitat for marine life.  Unfortunately, the non-indigenius introduction of the green crab which feeds upon the only known rooted underwater grass has desimated its growth in some areas.


Cliffs & Bluffs, from which those amazing views of the ocean vistas can be enjoyed & have made the Cabot Trail  & Balancing Rock world reknown, can be rocky which are quite stable & often anchor beaches & allow for pocket  beaches to form in between the cliffs. Tall granite cliffs are not very sensitive to erosion unlike their soft soil/sand counterparts.


Coastal Forest & Barens which make of 649,700 ha of NS are considered at low sensitivity but contain local habitats that are critical. 3% are currently protected while 15.6% of coastal barrens have some level of protection.



Nova Scotia's system of coastal ecosystems & habitats are complex because so many types are woven together to form the fabric of our coast. The government offers facts about protected lands & ecosystems in NS & how we as residents & visitors can protect sensitive areas while we develop, use & enjoy the coast.

Needless to say, Nova Scotians & Canadians alike are highly dependent on protecting & preserving our coastal ecosystems.  86% of Nova Scotians think that protecting sensitve coastal ecosystems is " very important " ( NSFA, 2010 ). So if we all do our part, our coastal areas can be enjoyed for generations to come.

Nova Scotia's north coast is along the Northumberland Strait is a strait in the southern part of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in eastern Canada. The strait is formed by Prince Edward Island and the gulf's eastern, southern and western shores. The strait's shallow depths lend to warm water temperatures in summer months, with some areas reaching 25°C, or 77°F. Consequently the strait is reportedly home to the warmest ocean water temperatures in Canada, and some of the warmest ocean water temperatures on the Atlantic coast north of Virginia. During the winter months between December & April, sea ice covers the strait and Gulf of St. Lawrence.  While the western shores of Cape Breton Island and northeastern shores of the Nova Scotia peninsula are dominated by granite, sedimentary rocks along the central and western parts of the strait, as well as the entire south shore of Prince Edward Island, consist of sandstone, lending to beautiful sandy beaches with minimal coastal development along PEI, NS & NB.  Northumberland Ferries Limited operates a passenger/vehicle service between Caribou, Nova Scotia and Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island. A passenger-only ferry service operates from Caribou, Nova Scotia to Pictou Island. These areas are popular as vacation homes & for tourism.


Cape Breton Island, aka the claw of the lobster shaped province, is an island in the Atlantic ocean attached to the mainland by a causeway across the Strait of Canso. The island is located east-northeast of the mainland with its northern and western coasts fronting on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence; its western coast also forming the eastern limits of the Northumberland Strait. The eastern and southern coasts front the Atlantic Ocean; its eastern coast also forming the western limits of the Cabot Strait. Its landmass slopes upward from south to north, culminating in the highlands of its northern cape famous for its Cabot Trail. One of the world's larger salt water lakes, Bras d'Or ("Arm of Gold" in French), dominates the centre of the island.

 Cape breton island 1.jpg 

The Eastern Shore is a region of Nova Scotia Canada. It is the Atlantic coast running northeast from Halifax Harbour to the eastern end of the peninsula at the Strait of Canso. The Eastern Shore is a scenic, yet sparsely settled area, hosting dozens of small fishing harbours and communities; in recent decades the region has become home to a growing number of cottages and recreational properties, given the amount of unspoiled sand beaches and dramatic coastlines. The shore also hosts the majority of Nova Scotia's small islands. The western end of the Eastern Shore borders on the Dartmouth side of the urban core of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and which is experiencing urban sprawl. The provincial scenic travelway, the "Marine Drive", runs on Trunk 7, Trunk 16, Route 207, Route 211, Route 316, Route 322, and Route 344 through most centres along the shore. The tourism industry is concentrated near popular beaches and provincial parks such as Lawrencetown, Clam Harbour, and Martinique, as well as the centrally-located service communities of Musquodoboit Harbour, Sheet Harbour, Sherbrooke, Canso, Guysborough and Mulgrave. Popular tourist attractions include the Liscombe Lodge resort and conference centre at Liscomb Mills and the Historic Sherbrooke Village at Sherbrooke.



Halifax Harbour is a large natural harbour on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, located in the Halifax Regional Municipality. The harbour is largely formed by a drowned glacial valley which succumbed to sea level rise since glaciation. The Sackville River now empties into the upper end of the harbour in Bedford Basin, however its original river bed has been charted by the Canadian Hydrographic Service throughout the length of the harbour and beyond. The harbour contains  several small islands & includes the following geographic areas:

  • Northwest Arm Another drowned river valley now largely used by pleasure boats. Along which some of the city's most expensive real estate can be found.
  • The Narrows A constricted passage to Bedford Basin. The location of the Halifax Explosion which devasted the city.
  • Bedford Basin A sheltered bay and the largest part of the harbour.

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) maintains a large base housing its Atlantic fleet, Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT), along the western side of The Narrows, as well as an ammunition depot (CFAD Bedford) on the northeastern shore of Bedford Basin. There are strict security regulations relating to vessels navigating near RCN facilities and anchorages. The harbour is also very important in the gateway for trade with Europe 7 more recently with cruise ships bringing tourist to visit the port city & all that is has to offer.  There are also 7 marinas, with an 8th still in planning, on the harbour.

There are two large suspension bridges crossing The Narrows:

Halifax Harbour is noted for many shipwrecks both in the inner and outer harbour. A few ships were sunk at the edge of the harbour approaches during World War II by German U-Boats but the vast majority were claimed by harbour accidents. Mapping of the harbour revealed about 45 shipwrecks in the harbour. Near the mouth of the harbour, over 50 magnetic anomalies have been discovered, most of which also represent shipwrecks with many others buried underneath the muddy sediments. All historic shipwrecks in Halifax Harbour are protected by Nova Scotia's Special Places Act which makes it illegal to remove artifacts without a permit.

Tourists & locals alike enjoy visiting the Peggy's Cove, an idyllic fishing village set on the rocky shores. Many local artisans offer wonderful wares both in Peggy's Cove & along the lighthouse route.


The south shore has become a favorite spot for celebrities to purchase vacation homes offering sailing, a quiet pace to life, great sailing, some beautiful beaches & more.  It is rich in history. Legalized pirates called privateers once plied these harsh waters, authorized to attack foreign vessels during wartime. Any coin they earned from captured cargo was theirs to keep – you had to make a living somehow. Privateer Days in Liverpool pays homage to this infamous heritage. A coin of a different era, today’s Canadian dime, features the Bluenose, a fishing boat that found fame as a racing schooner. Visit the ship’s birthplace of Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and walk the town’s distinctive waterfront with its colourful buildings and Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.  Navigate through island-studded bays and past sweeps of silver sand. Float over the resting place of the SS Atlantic, the worst disaster for the White Star oceanliner company until a ship called the Titanic set sail. Look for the many lighthouses on the Shore, weather-battered but still standing guard, including the much-photographed beacon in Peggy’s Cove. Come ashore to history in Shelburne, with its original United Empire Loyalist homes dating to 1783, or nearby Birchtown, the site of the first freed Black settlement in North America. But if you are down to your last dime, try your luck finding the rumoured pirate booty buried on Oak Island. The scuttlebutt is that it belonged to Captain Kidd or Blackbeard, and treasure seekers have been digging for 200 years. Other beautiful spots to visit along the south shore include, but are not limited to Shag Harbour ( is a small fishing community found along the South Shore of Nova Scotia. It is one of several small villages found in the Municipality of Barrington, Shelburne County. It has a population of roughly 400-450. The main occupations centre around lobster fishing, which takes place from November to May. It's notoriety comes from the Shag Harbour UFO incident. ), Chester, Mahone Bay, & Blue Rocks.

Gaff Point  


The Acadian ( aka French ) Shore is located at the southwest end of the province. Shaped by the fishing industry with strong ties to the sea & is home to the largest fishing industry in the Atlantic provinces & the largest lobster fishery in the world.  Also reknown for its Digby scallops by chefs around the globe. The climate of Yarmouth & Acadian Shores is controlled by the Atlantic Ocean and Bay of Fundy waters off the coast. These relatively cool bodies of water (8-12 Celsius) ensure that summer weather is cool and refreshing, and winter weather is the warmest in Atlantic Canada.

Dennis Point Wharf Port Maitland Beach Provincial Park 

Bay of Fundy & Annoplis Valley, the powerful ebb and flow of the Bay of Fundy tides, the highest in the world, dramatically alter the coastline. From Windsor, through the coastal areas of the lush Annapolis Valley, down to the tip of Brier Island, the Bay of Fundy paints a different landscape every day. Visit the bay at low tide & you will see fishing boats sitting on the muddy ocean floor. Revisit, 6 hours later you will see the same boats floating along side the wharfs at high tide mark. From tidal bore rafting to the thrill of whale watching at Brier Island to enjoying the tasty 'catch of the day', visit the fossil museum in Parrsboro, visit the shoreline to see if you can spot some fossils yourself, there are numerous ways to experience this astonishing natural phenomenon.


Margaretsville, Along the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia Delhaven, Along the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia 

The interesting & dynamic coastlines & ecosystems offer a wide range of activities & sceneries for residents & visitors of Nova Scotia to experience. Whether it be hiking or cycling the trails along the shores, sea kayaking, whale watching, fishing, clam digging, sailing, cliff climbing, searching for fossils, enjoying the best seafood in Canada, kite boarding, surfing, riding the tidal bore, or simply enjoying the wildlife & flora of the areas.

Learn how we as Nova Scotia property owners can take little measures to protect & continue to enjoy our beautiful shorelines.

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