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The peat industry threatened by climate change in the Acadian Peninsula

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jan8,2024

Peat industry threatened by decline climate regulation in the Acadian Peninsula

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Peatlands formed nearly 10,000 years ago are partly used today to support the growth of plants in the agriculture sector agriculture in particular.

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In the Acadian Peninsula, in New Brunswick, peatlands are an integral part of the landscape. These wetlands are sinks that absorb carbon. Companies exploit some of them to produce potting soil. But climate change threatens this fragile ecosystem and the industry on which many workers depend.

These peatlands only make up 2% of New Brunswick's land, but they are very numerous in the Acadian Peninsula. They extend over nearly half of Miscou Island and a quarter of Lamèque Island.

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Half of Miscou Island is covered in peatlands, but none is exploited by industry.

The very first production site in the province opened on the Acadian Peninsula in 1942.

At present, the industry is the second largest in the region, behind fishing. It employs more than 700 people on the Peninsula. Nearly 40% of provincial production comes from the region.

And New Brunswick is a major player in this industry: it is the leading producer of peat in the country. The province represents nearly 30% of production, more than half of which is exported to the United States.

But the industry in the Acadian Peninsula faces several major challenges linked to climate change.

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Marion Tétégan-Simon, scientific director at the Zone Research Institute coastal Valorès, in Shippagan, has four major risks: temperature and precipitation fluctuations, coastal erosion and sea level rise.

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The scientific director at the Valorès Institute, Marion Tétégan Simon. (File photo)

Peat can usually be collected from the end of May until the beginning of September. To be harvested, however, it must be dry.

This summer, numerous episodes of rain prevented this from happening. Result: a catastrophic season with 30% of a normal harvest with consequences on the population.

The majority of workers in the industry are seasonal, so this year it will be difficult for others to qualify for employment insurance, explains Jean-Yves Daigle, director of the New Brunswick Peat Producers Association.

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Tractors in a bog.

A situation that could happen again, according to the researcher. With global warming, we no longer really have a constant, so we can expect the two extremes, either to have a good year or a bad year, continues Marion Tétégan-Simon.

Other risks facing the industry include rising sea levels.

In the Acadian Peninsula, water levels increased by 10 cm from 1973 to 2011 due to ocean warming. According to the most recent projections, the sea could rise by an additional 70 cm by 2100 in the area.

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Before being director of the Association of Peat Producers, Jean-Yves Daigle was a researcher in the field of peat for around forty years.

While this may not seem like much, this increase is already having visible consequences in the Peninsula.

When you come to Shippagan, crossing the plain on the bay side, you see the bottom of the peat bog and you can walk on it at low tide because the level sea ​​level has increased, indicates Jean-Yves Daigle.

However, this does not mean that all peatlands will be underwater in 30-50 years, but in the event of a storm or flood, it makes them much more vulnerable to flooding.

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The NB flood zone map shows models of rising water levels around Shippagan. This map shows how high the water could rise in the case of a 20-year flood with an annual probability of exceeding 5%.

We could have salt water infiltration into the peat bogs, adds Marion Tétégan-Simon. This would have consequences for industry as well as for peatlands in their natural state.

If salt water infiltrates peat bogs, saturated with fresh water, it leaves scars, underlines Jean-Yves Daigle. If the situation occurs repeatedly, the peat cannot survive. Only salt marsh vegetation can live in seawater.

To limit its impact on nature, the industry has a legal obligation to restore peatlands once exploitation is complete. Fifteen years after the last harvest, peatlands return to their natural state and can once again absorb carbon, according to processes developed by researchers from several Canadian universities.

In its natural state, the peat bog absorbs greenhouse gases. During the harvest years, it will release some and when it is restored, the balance returns as before the harvest periods, explains Jean-Yves Daigle, who also worked for 40 years in scientific research linked to peat .

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According to researchers, peatlands return to their natural state 15 years after the last harvest if a restoration protocol is applied at the end of operations.

However, restoration does not work if salt water seeps into the bog.

It risks destroying ecosystems and it risks releasing a lot of carbon into the 'atmosphere.

A quote from Laurent Daoud, researcher at Valorès

The institute is currently working, jointly with the industry, to try to adapt the restoration method of peat bogs accordingly.

One ​​of the dangers inherent to the Acadian Peninsula is coastal erosion. With the rise in water levels, the sea is eating away at the cliffs year after year.

In certain areas, the coastline has already retreated significantly. At Pigeon Hill, for example, from 1944 to 2012, the coastline retreated 86 m. The phenomenon is irreversible and continues to worsen.

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In the Acadian Peninsula, the erosion of cliffs worries residents in certain areas such as those on Foley Street in Caraquet, but also professionals in peat.

A peat bog that began to be mined, say in the 1950s, near the seashore, today there is a good chance that that bog is close to the cliff that is being eroded , says the director of the Association of Peat Producers.

Except that peat producers do not have the right to harvest at less than 50 m of the coasts, in particular to avoid contributing to erosion. This may represent a loss of income for them now and in the future with the risk of seeing the erosion of their land.

Faced with these risks, there are few solutions for the industry, according to Jean-Yves Daigle: the industry has no choice, operations must be moved.

He brushes aside certain solutions envisaged. According to him, the plants installed along the coasts and the riprap of the banks are useless in the fight against erosion.

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The coasts of the Acadian Peninsula are fragile in the face of climate change.

The riprap would be of no use. Manufacturers will not be able to prevent coastal erosion and rising sea levels. These are natural phenomena and all industry can do is adapt and act differently, concludes the director of the Peat Producers Association.

Among the nine farms coming to the province, eight are far from the coast and all belong to large companies Americans who have the means to invest and adapt to climate change.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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