Brier Island, Nova Scotia – Eco-tourism at its best

Nova Scotia may be Canada’s ocean playground but if you are looking to rediscover nature than Brier Island should be your staycation eco-tourism destination this year.  Brier Island is famous for its whale watching, bird watching and coastal hiking, however, make it the perfect retire for those looking to be back to nature.

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If you’re not familiar with Nova Scotia geography, Brier Island is the most southwesterly point of the province and sits at the entrance of the Bay of Fundy.   Brier Island is located about four hours (295 kilometers or 194 miles) West of Halifax or about two and a half hours (164 kilometers or 102 miles) West of Yarmouth in Nova Scotia both routes offer amazing views of the province’s coastal shores and two ferries, three if you are coming via Yarmouth, to get from the mainland to Brier Island making it feel like a true and proper journey to get there.

Once on the Island, which only has approximately 200 permanent residents, visitors have the perfect opportunity to reconnect with nature by exploring the miles of trails that criss-cross the 7.5 km (4.7 mi) long and 2.5 km (1.6 mi) wide island where your can visit places like the Brier Island Nature Reserve located at Pond Cove Beach.  The Island welcomes rockhounders to search for quartz, agate, jasper, amethyst and even zeolite along its rocky shores. For birdwatchers, Brier Island is the perfect destination as it lies on the Atlantic Flyway Migratory Route, and hosts hundreds of varieties of birds throughout the year.

The Island’s weather, well it can chance for moment to moment in the summer, so you truly need to be prepared for anything from a sweltering humid heat to a Nor’easter rolling in or maybe even a hurricane.  The High winds cause the most havoc on the Island, well that and heavy fog, which can keep the whale watching boats from sailing.  In saying that, on the positive side, those who stay on Brier Island during storms and who are adventurous enough to head out along the 25 kilometres of shoreline – at a safe distance, of course – are treated to some amazing storm watching and wave shows while you see Mother Nature at her best or worst depending on how you look at it.  However, the weather, and the seasons, actually are what make Brier Island what it is, a destination that is as natural and untouched as it comes.

Residents and businesses on the Island are strong proponents of environmentalism and eco-tourism, which are integral to the way of life on the Island.  Businesses operate in-line with the sustainability initiatives in Digby County, with most going above and beyond.  For example, Brier Island Lodge follows similar waste and cost reduction practices that all hotels do, in the way of on-demand linen refreshing.  Being on wells rather than a town water supply makes water conservation extremely important to them, so it is important for it to be tailored for low consumption.  The lodge continues to reduce the plastics they use and have opt for biodegradable products where possible in all departments.  They compost much of their kitchen waste and use the compost in their landscaping.  The lodge also has on-site greenhouses, which they use to grow some of the food for the restaurant.  In addition to their sustainability initiatives, they also focus on promoting local farmers and fishermen sourcing their food supplies within 100 kilometres to offer freshest local dishes on their menu for you to enjoy.

The island offers nature lovers so many opportunities to connect with nature along with being home to one of the world’s rarest plants: The Eastern Mountain Avens or Geum peckii, which is a member of the rose family.  This yellow flower exists in only two isolated populations in the world. One along streams in the alpine meadows of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, with the other being the coastal peatlands of Brier Island and Digby Neck in Nova Scotia.

The plant life presence in Brier Island is very plentiful and diverse due to seed drop from the many migrating birds that stopover in the area.  There are actually 21 different species of orchids that grow on the Island which attract botanists from around the world to the Island for the amazing flora if offers.

With the emphasis on nature and conservancy, the Island has become a real centre for research. There are a lot of unique opportunities, especially for people who are into botany, on the island. The bog located on the Island, which The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) along with several other conservation partners including government and non-government organizations are restoring, is one of only three of its type in North America. They’re raising the water levels in the bog to protect the Eastern Mountain Avens.

A third of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada , protecting the many plants and animals that play a major role in the biodiversity of Brier Island which is part of the Southwest Nova Biosphere.  As the Island is one of the major resting spots for migratory birds on the eastern seaboard.

It goes without saying that tourism is what drives this small island and the surrounding region, which has seen the affects of Covid-19 restriction has had on visitors coming to the Island.  Thankfully the Island has the support the fishing village of Westport that keeps the island community going during the off-season and throughout the pandemic.  Westport is also where the ferry service is that takes people from Freeport on Long Island. There are two short ferry trips to get to Brier Island, actually. Both ferries run once every hour, 24 hours a day and are on-call after midnight. The cost is only seven dollars per car, cash only. You pay to get there, but it’s free when you’re leaving.

Whale watching is the major draw on the Island both Brier Island Whale and Seabird Tours, and Mariner Cruises Whale and Seabird Tours offer truly amazing adventures out into the Bay of Fundy to see these majestic creatures and we are confident that it will be an experience you will never forget as whale encounters are second to none with whale breaches off all sides of the ship to a backdrop of amazing scenery everywhere you look.

You’re connected to the sea everywhere you look and travel on Brier Island. It is also home to three lighthouses, including the beautiful and historic Western Light and the Peter Island lighthouse, which is off the Island in Grand Passage.

Facebook is full of the experiences and sights that can be had on the Island.  Graham Wile posts, “Beautiful and interesting sights, including spectacular tidal events.”  Terry Havlis Drahos posts, “Loved it. It is a beautiful place unlike anywhere else.”  Wotta Reyes-Levinskybest posts, “Best humpback whale watching experience ever!!!”  Mark Stokes posts, “Lovely place, everyone very friendly boat trips whale watching amazing.”  However, we believe that Wanda Thomas Titus’s post was the most on point description of Brier Island with “A beautiful island with beautiful people. Slow down and enjoy the slower pace, look at the nature including sea birds, whales, seals, etc. The very unique and rare flora some only found on Brier Island. Great places to stay and great places to eat… do not miss this unique Canadian east coast town.”

We are confident from our own experiences and those of others that you will not leave the Island disappointed for that reason it should be on your bucket list of travel destinations.

To see more of what this amazing Island offers, please go to the Brier Island Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/brierisland).  It is run on a voluntary basis by Amy Tudor and the photos you see in this article are courtesy of her.

by Lee Ann Atwater