Addressing Hurricane Fiona Recovery and Preparing for the Next Major Storm: A Q&A Session

Approaching the first anniversary of Hurricane Fiona, Hurricane Lee is currently on a trajectory towards the Atlantic coast.

Dr. Chris Houser, the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Waterloo, specializes in coastal erosion. In conjunction with his citizen-science initiative, Coastie Canada, he is monitoring the progress of post-Fiona recovery and assessing the potential impact of this year’s storms on the already vulnerable eastern coast of Canada.

What were the immediate consequences of Hurricane Fiona on the dunes and beaches in Atlantic Canada, and what is their current state?
When Hurricane Fiona struck, it made landfall in the Atlantic provinces, causing significant damage with large storm waves and a heightened storm surge along the north shore of Prince Edward Island. This resulted in extensive beach and dune loss throughout the region. With the assistance of citizen scientists participating in the Coastie program, we were able to record dune erosion on PEI of up to 15 meters, as well as track the initial stages of beach and dune recovery.

What impact is another hurricane likely to have on the natural recovery process of the shoreline?
Dunes play a crucial role as natural barriers and sources of sediment that help regulate how the coastline responds to storms and rising sea levels. The dunes’ ability to provide protection depends on their capacity to recover from the last storm, a process that can take several years, contingent upon the extent of erosion during the previous storm and the rate at which sand is replenished on the beach between storms. The apparent increase in storm frequency and intensity makes it challenging for the dunes to recover fully, potentially leading to a situation where recovery takes one step forward and two steps back, ultimately reshaping the coastal environment significantly.

What is at risk if the coastline cannot recover adequately?
If the dunes fail to regain their height and extent, each successive storm will progressively deplete their sediment, potentially causing breaches in the dune line. This would result in habitat loss, infrastructure damage, property destruction, and disruption to local communities. However, restoring the dunes and implementing managed retreat strategies for the coastline will require innovative management approaches to minimize the impact on infrastructure, property, and people’s livelihoods.

Source: University of Waterloo

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