Tackling pollution and marine conservation

Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors summer adventure part 3:

Tackling pollution and marine conservation

By Karam Halabi

2022-2023 Parks Canada Youth Ambassador

With our bags packed and our car ready, we left Québec City and drove 3 hours up alongside the Saint Lawrence River to explore the beauty that would await us in Tadoussac and the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. It was my first time ever boarding a ferry to cross the Saguenay River and I was very excited to see what was waiting for us on the other side! 

Our adventure started at the Pointe-Noire and the Cap de Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre. We found what is arguably one of the best jobs in the world: There are researchers tasked to observe magnificent whales along the shoreline! They were quite busy when we got there, but they humored us in conversation as we approached them and told us about the actual science behind these marine ecosystems. The scientific observers monitor whales in order to learn more about their habits, including their nursing and feeding spots. This allows them to take proper action to support recovery of species at risk like the endangered St. Lawrence beluga whale.

The SaguenaySt. Lawrence Marine Park is a unique place in the heart of the whale habitat. It is located at the confluence of a salt water current coming from the ocean that meets a fresh water current coming from the Great Lakes and the river basin. This creates ideal conditions for biodiversity and marine life to thrive. Essentially, the cold salty water that comes from the Laurentian Channel encounters the warm freshwater and that creates an upwelling of nutrients, promoting the growth of phytoplankton that is the primary source, the basis, of our food chain. Indeed, these microorganisms are the main food supply for zooplankton, which are themselves food for other animals. So these trigger a food chain that feeds fish, birds and, of course, whales too!

The Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park is an open sky laboratory. With its exceptional biodiversity and three large ecosystems, the marine park attracts researchers from all over! We also met with Parks Canada’s science team who recently installed a Collec’Thor: a fixed garbage and plastic collector device. This machine allows the science team to study and reduce pollutants in the water. The work being done is crucial. The innovation to maintain our ecosystems is nothing short of admirable!

We put the Collec’Thor machine in action in the water for several hours in order to collect garbage from the water. Meanwhile, we left to go explore the science boat in order to understand more about the science behind their important research. This boat is used to conduct research and to monitor marine life, prey and food availability by sending out special frequencies in the water. These frequencies will be reflected on the seabed and on the animals encountered and then return to the surface where they will be analyzed. By propagating sounds underwater at a certain frequency, researchers get a picture of the density, distribution, and abundance of prey that are present. It helps to understand the abundance and the biodiversity present in the water and provides a lot of information in order to protect species at risk by knowing their eating habits and food availability.

After an eventful day in the life of a researcher, we went back to the marina and checked on our Collec’Thor. We saw the way it was able to collect little bits of garbage and plastics. It was really impressive to see the machine work! This technology is being pioneered as we speak and this is one of the only spots in Canada to have it installed! 

Gathering information on plastic pollution and biodiversity helps us to maintain a sustainable, healthy environment, which impacts us all, from the microscopic phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain, up to the fish on our plate. Plastic particles and other waste can accumulate in the food chain since they are not eliminated. They remain on average more than 1000 years in the environment by breaking down into small pieces called microplastics. It is under this form that microorganisms ingest it, thus accumulating in the food chain and ending up in our bodies through the food we eat. It was inspiring to see how science is being used to reduce plastic pollution, but we all have our part to lessen the spread by taking every day actions to limit our use of plastics.

Truthfully, I was in awe of this new innovation and steadfast continuous effort towards marine conservation! It is a privilege to work alongside such dedicated Parks Canada colleagues and learn about these impressive conservation initiatives.

– Karam

← Part 2     Part 4 →



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