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Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada

Beaches and lagoons


St. Catherine’s River beach St. Catherine’s River beach
© Parks Canada/J. Sheppard

One of the most spectacular views in Nova Scotia awaits the visitor at Kejimkujik’s Seaside. From the Harbour Rocks trail, the sweeping curve of St. Catherine’s River beach is unveiled. The white sand is blinding on a sunny day. When dry, because of the uniform shape of the quartz sand grains, it “talks” as a person walks over it. This is one of the largest protected beaches in Nova Scotia.

The beaches are created by the action of current and waves that deposit fine sand in the sheltered coves of the Seaside. The sand is a product of the granite that lines the shoreline. Granite contains large amounts of quartz, a very hard and light coloured mineral. White sand, reflecting sunlight off the ocean floor is responsible for the unbelievable turquoise colour of the water. Darker patches are also present which represent those parts of the ocean floor that are covered in rock. Rocky areas are covered with seaweeds.

In some areas, the white sand contains unusual purple bands. This purple sand is actually very fine particles of garnet. This magnesium-rich mineral has been eroded from the surrounding rocks. It is very fine and less dense than the sand particles that make up the rest of the beach. Wave action is therefore able to move it to the highest part of the beach. Wind then collects and deposits it at the base of the dune grass or in other wind-traps.

Marram grass Marram grass
© Parks Canada

Just inland from the high tide zone on sandy beaches are wind-created dunes. Beaches are constantly being altered by the forces of the wind and the sea and can change dramatically over the course of a season. Winter storms can wash out, breach, or even move dunes around. Marram grass is the dominant plant on the dunes, holding the sand in place with its dense network of roots. The base of the dunes is critical nesting habitat for the endangered Piping plover.

Heading inland, older dunes are more stable with their carpet of Marram grass, rose, Bayberry, Poison ivy, and even the occasional white spruce. Beach pea, Starry false-Solomon’s seal, and Seaside goldenrod also grow here. Few animals live permanently on the dunes but deer and raccoons do leave traces of their passage.

The most common birds seen on sandy beaches include Spotted sandpipers in the early summer and flocks of Semi-palmated sandpipers, Least sandpipers, Sanderlings, Willets, and Semi-palmated plovers later on. These shorebirds run back and forth between the breaking waves on the beach picking up morsels of food like sandhoppers or sideswimmers. Common terns nest on the tip of St. Catherine’s River Beach. Many of these birds are migratory and make use of the Seaside’s beaches on their way to somewhere else. These beaches are therefore directly connected to coastal areas in the southern United States, the Carribean, and as far away as Antarctica.

Greater yellowlegs, Herring gull and Semi-palmated plover
© Parks Canada/P. Hope

Shells and scattered pebbles help make this beach ideal for Piping plover nests because they use these bits of flotsam to help camouflage their shallow nest depressions in the sand. The presence of the plovers and the importance of the Marram grass, which is sensitive to foot traffic, in holding down the sand, makes these dunes very special places. Avoid walking on dunes and respect beach closures where indicated.


Lagoon Lagoon
© Parks Canada

Beaches like St. Catherine’s River Beach and Little Port Joli beach create a sheltered body called a lagoon in behind their sandy barrier where fresh and salt water intermingle. Tides rush in through the narrow opening created by the barrier beach, flooding tidal flats and surrounding small islands with an influx of fresh, cold salt water. The lagoons experience high and low tides about every 6 hours. The fine mud which collects here is rich in nutrients and absorbs lots of heat during low tide. Fine algae grows on the mud and it can be baked into a bleached cardboard-like substance by the sun. Many types of insects and crustaceans seeks shelter from the drying sun under these mats. Eel grass provides a rich grazing ground for many shorebirds, ducks, and geese. Eagles, osprey, and herons regularly fish in the lagoon shallows. Lagoons are important nurseries for many types of fish, including the Mummichog and the Stickleback. Large numbers of marine creatures such as Soft shell clams, periwinkles, and Macoma clams are common. Raccoons come down to the lagoon’s edge to feed on these shellfish. Salt marshes, with their cordgrass and rushes fringe the lagoon.

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