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Grenfell profs help develop interpretation program for reserve

Interpreting Burnt Island reserve

(December 2, 1999, Gazette)

Top Photo: View of seascape – edge of reserve.
Next: Whale cave – largest of the sea caves in the reserve. Keith Nicol can be seen on the left (to give an idea of how big it is).
Inset: Cannon holes.

By Pamela Gill

Two Sir Wilfred Grenfell College professors have developed a training and resource manual for guides at the Burnt Island Ecological Reserve in Raleigh, Newfoundland.

Biology professor Ed Andrews and geography professor Keith Nicol studied the Burnt Island Ecological Reserve before writing the manual and providing initial training for the guides. The goal of the manual is to assist naturalists, interpreters and guides in the stewardship of the reserve.

The establishment of the reserve is the result of a partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Parks and Natural Areas Division of the provincial government, and the town of Raleigh. Grenfell College’s role in the project was co-ordinated by the college’s Applied Research Unit. The unit is a single point of contact for businesses, organizations and individuals interested in utilizing the expertise, services or resources at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.

Mr. Andrews and Mr. Nicol compiled information in the manual that would be useful to people with a limited geological and biological background, everything from historical and climate-related information to the identification of plants and geological formations. Mr. Andrews and Mr. Nicol also provided a two-day immersion course for the two guides selected for the reserve’s first tourist season, last summer. As well, the two professors left the guides with a photographic record of the plants and formations in the area, and a comprehensive list of the kinds of equipment necessary to properly act as guardians of the reserve.

Burnt Island, or Burnt Cape, as it is known locally, is an elevated coastal site situated at the tip of the Northern Peninsula. Burnt Island is considered one of the most important botanical sites on the island of Newfoundland, because of the high number of rare plant species. Although the importance of the area was documented as early as 1925, it wasn’t recognized as a provincial reserve and protected under the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act until early 1998.

The reserve is essentially a large limestone dome formed through glaciation. Several marine shelves or steps form the coastal edge of the reserve, which boast a number of majestic sea caves and “cannon holes” – small rounded holes in limestone.

“The most impressive part of the reserve to me is the enormous Whale Cave,” said Mr. Nicol. “This is a monstrous sea cave – I’ve talked to several geologists who travelled there and they say they’ve never seen anything bigger.”

The reserve contains 301 species of vascular plants, 35 of them are rare in the province, and one that’s not found anywhere else in the world – the Burnt Cape Cinquefoil.

Burnt Island has the shortest growing season, lowest summer temperatures and lowest annual temperature of any coastal town location in Newfoundland. Because of the area’s elevation and exposure, its climate is extremely severe. In this harsh landscape grows an interesting mix of plants – Arctic species, as well as plants which flourish in the warmer temperatures brought by the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The reserve is also an excellent place to observe icebergs, whales, and on a clear day, the coast of Labrador. In addition, interesting fossils are located at the head of Burnt Cape.

“The reserve contains aspects that are important from cultural, biological and geological points of view,” said Mr. Andrews.