Keeping an eye on the Northumberland Strait

Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, UPEI’s Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity, has been awarded funding by the Canadian Water Network (CWN) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to construct a long-term monitoring program in the watersheds in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, including the Northumberland Strait.

Dr. van den Heuvel will lead a team of researchers across five universities and government departments to develop a program that measures how land-use affects the overall health of the species and estuaries within the Southern Gulf.

“We’ll focus on two key sources of stress related to land-use: nutrients and sediments” said Dr. van den Heuvel. “And we’ll determine how to best monitor how these things affect the fish, invertebrates and vegetation in the waters of the southern gulf.”

Dr. van den Heuvel’s team–made up of researchers at the Universities of New Brunswick and Québec, as well as DFO and Agriculture Canada–has three years in which to establish the science behind this monitoring program. As they work, he says they must bear in mind several important factors.

“We’re creating a monitoring program that will continue once our initial three-year project is finished,” he said. “We have to consider who is going to take on this monitoring work, how much it’s going to cost, and who will bear that cost. So we have to balance our need to have stable, long-term data with practical issues to ensure that the monitoring framework is sustainable.”

The project proposal, titled “Towards a regional monitoring framework for cumulative impacts assessment in the Northumberland Strait: Linking land-use stressor loads and nearshore biological integrity,” was one of just four selected nationally by the CWN and a consortium of stakeholders within the region, with money also being contributed by DFO.

UPEI students work a sein net on the Tryon River estuary: submitted photoUPEI students work a sein net on the Tryon River estuary: submitted photo

“Dr. van den Heuvel’s work will collect data that will be available to anyone concerned with the health of life in the Northumberland Strait,” said Dr. Katherine Schultz, UPEI’s Vice-President of Research. “Once we understand how what we do on land impacts life in the water, researchers such as Dr. van den Heuvel can address any issues they uncover.”

CWN’s $2.1 million investment in projects such as this one, allows university research groups to create environmental frameworks to support cumulative effects assessments in watersheds. This focus creates standardizing approaches nationally to monitor watersheds where multiple uses and activities affect conditions.

Contact: Dave Atkinson, UPEI Research Communications,

Sustainable aquaculture

“We cannot just look at coming up with new drugs to control diseases. We need to look at strategies to prevent diseases,” explains Dr. Sophie St-Hilaire, associate professor of Health Management at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, and Canada Research Chair in Integrated Health Research for Sustainable Aquaculture

“We need to consider the environmental sustainability of aquaculture systems if we want to be able to farm these systems long term. We also have to assess the short and long term cost benefit of an intensive aquaculture system that is prone to infectious disease outbreaks and treatments."

Dr. St-Hilaire’s research into disease prevention, sustainability, and public health in aquaculture settings complements the expertise of the AVC’s Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology (CVER) and Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (CAHS), both of which welcome her as a member. Her research has taken her to Chile, the United Kingdom, and the British Columbia coast.

“And while I’ll continue to work on projects in these areas, I’d like to focus some of my attention closer to my new home in Atlantic Canada,” says Dr. St-Hilaire. “Specifically, I’d like to work with shellfish farmers in the waters of Prince Edward Island, and with trout and salmon farmers across the Atlantic provinces.”

Besides disease prevention, Dr. St-Hilaire also works on other sustainability issues facing aquaculture systems such as the use of fishmeal in salmonid commercial feed and waste management. The recycling of waste is a hot topic within aquaculture, and is at the heart of St-Hilaire’s research.

“Salmon farms are looking for new ways to handle waste, and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture using filter-feeders, could be part of the solution,” says St-Hilaire. This system may also be useful at reducing pathogens, a question she is hoping to answer with SalmonChile, using field data from Chilean salt water aquaculture farms.

"As an epidemiologist I work on many different problems. The breadth of my research projects enables me to collaborate with many different types of researchers, from microbiologists to agricultural engineers.  The ultimate goal of my research is to improve aquaculture systems and make them more economically and environmentally sustainable.

“I’m excited to be back at the AVC,” says Dr. St-Hilaire. “This is where I received my DVM. I’m now working on research alongside professors who were my teachers. That’s really gratifying.”