Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Anthropogenic Pressures on Coastal Dunes, Southwestern Newfoundland

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Anthropogenic Pressures on Coastal Dunes, Southwestern Newfoundland

Article excerpt


Newfoundland is popularly referred to as `The Rock', and sand-dominated coastlines developed under the influence of aeolian processes are rarely regarded as characteristic. Although local communities have endeavoured to promote their dune-backed shorelines, the focus of the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation has remained on the rocky, cliffed shorelines found throughout the majority of the coastal environment. Until 1992, relatively few residents were strongly interested in conservation or preservation of the dune-backed coasts. Most regarded these shorelines as of limited value from a fishery perspective, and unsuitable for the construction of coastal infrastructure, whereas some individuals considered the areas as suitable only for motorized recreation. The concept of utilizing a dune-backed coastline for recreational purposes was not widespread in coastal Newfoundland.

With the imposition of the Northern Cod Moratorium in 1992, and the continuing low levels of employment provided by the fishing and fish-processing industries, many Newfoundland communities have turned to tourism as an alternative source of economic activity, revenue, and employment. The increasing emphasis on environmentally-related and `eco-tourism' activities evident throughout North America and Europe has found an echo in Newfoundland tourism promotion, with the natural environment increasingly stressed. In southwestern Newfoundland, local efforts at tourism promotion have been facilitated by the emphasis of the Department of Tourism, Culture, and Recreation on Gros Morne National Park and most recently on the Viking Millennial celebrations centred at L'Anse-aux-Meadows. The railbed of the Newfoundland Railway, designated as the `T'Railway' Provincial Park, has also seen increased usage by hikers and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) operators.

The dune-backed coastal areas have consequently been `discovered' as tourist attractions by local communities, both for their intrinsic scenic qualities and as habitats for the endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodus). Promotion of tourism to the area is co-ordinated by the Maritime and Mountain Economic Development Board, a provincially- and municipally-funded organization. Simultaneously, the shift in working habits resulting from the decline in the fishery has given many residents additional time for recreational activities, leading to an upsurge in ATV usage and motorized traffic across the sandy littorals.

Beaches backed by transverse foredunes and parabolic dunes of various sizes are present along several areas of the coast of Newfoundland (Catto 1994b; see Figure 1). In southwestern Newfoundland, dune-backed coastlines include Grand Bay West, Point Enragee Cove, Rocky Barachois, Big Barachois, Osmond Cove, J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, Bear Cove, and Shoal Point (northwest of Channel--Port-aux-Basques: Figure 2); and Sandbanks Provincial Park and Big Barasway (Burgeo area; Figure 3). The establishment of provincial parks at Sandbanks and J.T. Cheeseman, and the provincial ecological reserve on Big Barasway, reflects both realization of the geomorphological and ecological uniqueness of these areas, and a practical recognition of the lack of pressure for competing land uses that existed until ca. 1992.


This contribution discusses the anthropogenic stresses currently operating on the dune-backed coastlines of southwestern Newfoundland, concentrating on changes resulting from the increased emphasis on tourism and the effects of the Northern Cod Moratorium imposed in 1992. The geomorphic aspects, treated briefly here, will be dealt with more extensively in a forthcoming paper (Catto in preparation).

Regional Setting

Southwestern Newfoundland has a cool mid-boreal climate (modified Koppen-Geiger Dfb), with a perhumid moisture regime. The dominant controls are the prevailing southwesterly winds, and the proximity of the relatively cold waters of the Gulf of St. …

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