Coastal Access in General




Public coastal access is about people’s ability to view, reach, and move along the shoreline of both the mainland and nearby islands. According to the United Nations coastal access is an issue of public concern and contention

in many countries around the world.


On many Islands of the Caribbean there is no such thing as a private beach. In France too, Napoleon passed laws that gave the public access to all beaches, in the United States, however,  people are hard pressed outside of a national or state park to find anywhere that is not a private beach and in Canada the rules vary, a mixture of law and tradition. 

The Situation in Nova Scotia


The situation In Nova Scotia, the situation is mixed. Access to the coast provides valued recreational space for residents and visitors. It also supports local economic development, particularly for the tourism industry. The public has expressed concern about changes in land ownership and increased development in coastal areas. This is particularly true for St. Margaret’s Bay which is one of the areas that have had more pressure from population growth and higher levels of development.


Public Access


Public access in many areas is reached through public, or government-owned, land. With few exceptions, the strip of land between low and high tide is Crown land, and is an asset for the public to enjoy and explore. In Nova Scotia, public access to the coast is available through Crown land, harbours, public road rights-of-way, historic sites, and through national, provincial, and municipal parks. But not all publicly owned land is accessible to the general public. For example, some public land may be restricted to protect natural ecosystems or to allow for licensed extraction of natural resources, such as mining or forestry.


Groups have begun gathering information on public coastal access and have made it available online. For example, the Coastal Communities Network maintains a website,  which displays a provincial map with links to information about harbours and wharves.


Privately Owned Land


The public can also access the coast across privately owned land. They can ask for permission or pay the land owner. They can pay for a service provided on private coastal land, such as renting a hotel room and accessing the beach through hotel property. People can also purchase coastal property, ensuring private access for their families and guests.

Coastal development can make access difficult, and it’s happening more frequently along roads or highways running parallel to oceanfront lots. As more lots are subdivided and land is developed, areas of the coast that people have traditionally and informally accessed have become more restricted.


Trail Networks


Views across private property are another way that the public can access the coast, and views from roads and trails are generally plentiful. Trails throughout the province also provide access to coastal views, beaches, and wetlands. Nova Scotia has over 80 community trail associations and the Trans Canada Trail system. They work with all levels of government to develop, maintain, and promote individual and broader trail networks. Formal trails are relatively new to the province, but more are being developed than ever before. They ensure access to many different locations, including the coast.


Several departments and community organizations have developed the province’s Trails Nova Scotia website at or These sites have information about access points to overland trails, coastal water trails, and sea kayak or canoe routes.



What Nova Scotians are doing now


All levels of government, many interest groups, and individuals are involved in ensuring and protecting access to the coast. Several organizations acquire land for conservation purposes, which includes coastal lands with trails accessible to the public. Some active organizations include Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Ecology Action Centre and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. The provincial Departments of Natural Resources and Environment, are active partners in land acquisitions. In the case of St. Margaret’s Bay, DNR and the Nature Trust were partners with the Stewardship Association in acquiring Troop Island and Micou’s Island for public use.



Note: Some of information on these pages comes from the site:  “The State of the Coast - Chapter Six” report in particular. The St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association represented by Geoff LeBoutillier joined with other concerned groups and citizens to research the issues and to seek the creation of a NS Coastal Act.