Sunrise Scramble: Chasing the Tide at Cape Enrage Reef

Cape Enrage and its lighthouse stand like sentinels overlooking Chignecto Bay in the upper Bay of Fundy. The bottleneck of water and the rush of wind pushing through the passage at Cape Enrage has, in part, given this place its name. The other characteristic lending serious support to the name is the ragged reef extending nearly three-quarters of a kilometre into the bay. Today we've come with Kevin Snair to again chase the tide to its lowest reaches, heading out-to-sea during the full moon spring range.

The Cape Enrage Reef on a spring low tide. Photo credit: Kevin Snair

To Kevin, Cape Enrage is much different then Hopewell Rocks where he works as an interpretation supervisor, but maybe not in the way you’d think. Hopewell is known for its sea stacks while Cape Enrage is known for its lighthouse, cliffs and the reef, but Kevin says, "Cape Enrage is so much more colourful, the water doesn't have the heavy sediment that gives Hopewell its monotone chocolate brown appearance." This is an important observation as it influences the sea life here to a significant degree.

Kevin peers into an ephemeral tidal pool at Cape Enrage. Photo credit: Craig Norris

Due to the strong current in the bay, sediment has been transported past Cape Enrage and dumped off where the water calms. This current and the reef were the banes of sea captains during the age of sail. "Although sailors in those days were very in tune with the environment and knew the tides well, this reef must have seemed like a long jaw of sharp teeth waiting to shatter their sailboats into toothpicks,” imagines Kevin.

The ragged reef that has wrecked many sailing ships. Photo credit: Craig Norris

Following the spine-like reef out on a low tide, there is plenty of time to explore over 25 acres of “luxuriant” seaweed beds, and below that, millions of barnacles cemented to the rocks grazed by hungry hordes of marauding dog whelks. Only occasionally exposed on the lowest tides for a short time are the dark green and purple beds of Irish moss and dulse; two species commonly used as food.

Dog whelks versus barnacles. Photo credit: Craig Norris

Kevin is not only here to explore the ecosystem but to also experience the shifting of the tide in an area of the bay with some of the fastest water flow. Slack water doesn’t last long, the ebb tide quickly turns to a flood tide, and water levels begin to rise. Within minutes the tidal streams start to break the connections of the reef islands from the mainland. The water level builds on one side of the reef and spills through the rocks, breaking the silence as you hear many tidal streams together in an escalating sonic rush of current. This is a place you don’t want to lose track of time or let your mind wonder as you watch the scene. This far out into the bay you feel surrounded by water and extremely vulnerable. "Once the tide has turned, you feel a sense of urgency, like the bay doesn't want you there anymore," explains Kevin, "Your window is closing, and you must pay attention, or you can become trapped."

Kevin examines the lowest intertidal zone. Photo credit: Craig Norris
Slack tide at the tip of the Cape Enrage Reef. Photo credit: Kevin Snair

Sometimes going to the extremes is the best way to gain a new perspective on the Bay of Fundy. The Amazing Places Challenge is encouraging people to get out and visit all 50 Amazing Places in the Fundy Biosphere Reserve to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. What better way to celebrate than to spend time on the land visiting the very “Canadian” Amazing Places.

This article is the third of seven in the Amazing Places Challenge series.

Financed by The Government of Canada