If you visit Cape St. Mary’s, you will find one of the most unique and spectacular natural attractions in the New World — left with no manager in charge and an interpretation centre in shambles. A year after staffing cuts, the future of Cape St. Mary’s hangs in the breeze.
“The Cape” was originally protected in 1967 to provide scientific and educational opportunities around the tens of thousands of unique nesting seabirds that return each year. The site boasts tall rugged cliffs, sea-stacks and birds within an arm’s reach.
I decided to make the 200-kilometre haul out to the Cape with my father recently. We go every year around this time. Most of the chicks hatch around Canada Day so the colony is busy and full of life mid-July.
When we reached the end of the long access road to the site, I immediately noticed the Interpretation Centre looked to be in rough shape. The siding was sagged and needed a paint job. As we came closer I saw the front door was partially missing and was covered in plywood. More pieces were missing inside.
The Dr. Leslie M. Tuck Centre at the Cape was named after the province’s premier naturalist and ornithologist for nearly 30 years. He was a prolific author and received numerous awards and honorary degrees before succumbing to cancer in 1979. This place was his legacy.
It’s been tough times since the province slashed 15 positions from provincial parks and reserves (60 from the Department of Environment and Conservation), including the longtime Cape St. Mary’s park manager and local steward. Like the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, Cape St. Mary’s is now managed from Deer Lake, more than 600 kilometres away.
The interpretive staff continue to greet visitors and conduct research from a rundown building and in hopes the management situation will be resolved. It’s difficult with no real direction and no experienced authority onsite.
It has been over a year since the manager left and another budget has passed without any changes or consultation with people in the area. While visitors still flock to the site, deterioration outpaces maintenance. Offshore tanker traffic passes daily, waiting for the next catastrophic oil spill. This is not what Dr. Tuck envisioned.
As we headed out to “bird rock,” we began to hear the loud rumble of thousands of birds purring and screeching together. Then, scattered gannets began soaring overhead, circling around the 130-metre-high sea stack. When we reached the point, we saw the colony had expanded since last year. This might be a sign their population is doing well and that the caplin are plentiful.
I hope others will visit this beautiful place and learn from it a fraction of what I have. The Cape is a world-class tourist destination and is critical to our natural history. It deserves the attention and priority of our government, which promised to look after it well into the future.