• An aerial view of Holman's Island in Bedeque Bay

    An aerial view of Holman's Island in Bedeque Bay. The island has been acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and protected as an important habitat for migratory birds. (Photo: Mike Dembeck/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

A small island off the western coast of Prince Edward Island that once housed a resort will now be a "hotel for birds."

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has acquired Holman's Island in Bedeque Bay, protecting a significant habitat for migratory birds as well as a unique piece of P.E.I.'s history.

The island, located less than two kilometres from Summerside, was once home to the Island Park Hotel, the province's first summer resort. The hotel burned down in 1904 and nature quickly took over, transforming Holman's Island into a refuge for great blue herons, belted kingfishers, Canada geese, and the endangered red knot.

Julie Vasseur, program director for the NCC in P.E.I., says the acquisition of Holman's Island is an important step toward the organization's ultimate goal of protecting all of the province's 19 coastal islands.

"P.E.I.'s islands are a biodiversity hot spot," she explains. "They're pockets of isolation away from the densely-populated mainland, which makes them so important for breeding birds."

Because the island's former owners, the Clark family, left the property mostly untouched, Holman's Island is also home to almost 36 hectares of old-growth Acadian forest, adding to its attractiveness as a nesting ground for colonial seabirds.

"It's really cool to go out there and see mature American beech and sugar maples and yellow birch and know that you’re in a forest that has been left alone for so long," Vasseur says. "It’s like a snapshot of pre-settlement P.E.I."

The island is publicly accessible and an easy paddle from Summerside, though Vasseur cautions there are no hiking trails or other infrastructure, and overnight camping and campfires are strictly prohibited.

The NCC has now set its sights on protecting P.E.I.'s Cascumpec Sand Hills, a barrier of sand dunes that divides Cascumpec Bay from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and is also an important habitat for shore birds.