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,