Supporting early career researchers: insights from interdisciplinary marine scientists

The immense challenges associated with realizing ocean and coastal sustainability require highly skilled interdisciplinary marine scientists. However, the barriers experienced by early career researchers (ECRs) seeking to address these challenges, and the support required to overcome those barriers, are not well understood.

The continued importance of the hunter for future Inuit food security.

Inuit living in the Canadian Arctic have undergone rapid societal changes in the last half century, including moving into permanent settlements, the introduction of formal education, participation in the wage-economy, mechanization of hunting and travel, and increased consumption of store-bought foods. Despite these changes, country foods—locally harvested fish and wildlife—continue to be important in the lives of many Inuit for food security. However, fewer people are hunting full-time and some households are without an active hunter, limiting their access to country foods. This shift has increased reliance on processed foods purchased at the store to meet their daily food needs. These foods are often expensive, less nutritious, highly processed to endure long shelf lives, and less desirable than country foods. An entry point to strengthen Inuit food security is to support the acquisition of culturally-appropriate country foods through subsistence hunting and fishing. This entails supporting the transmission of environmental knowledge and land skills important for subsistence among generations, providing harvesters with necessary resources, and securing reliable cold storage in communities (e.g. community freezers) to preserve country foods during increasingly warmer summer months.

Towards an integrated database on Canadian ocean resources: benefits, current states, and research gaps.

Oceanic ecosystem services support a range of human benefits and Canada has extensive research networks producing growing datasets. We present a first effort to compile, link and harmonize available information to provide new perspectives on the status of Canadian ocean ecosystems and corresponding research. The metadata database currently includes 1,094 individual assessments and datasets from government (n=716), non-government (n=320), and academic sources (n=58), comprising research on marine species, natural drivers and resources, human activities, ecosystem services, and governance, with datasets spanning from 1979-2012 on average. Overall, research shows a strong prevalence towards single-species fishery studies, with an underrepresentation of economic and social aspects, and of the Arctic region in general. Nevertheless, the number of studies that are multi-species or ecosystem-based have increased since the 1960s. We present and discuss two illustrative case studies—marine protected area establishment in Canada, and herring resource use by the Heiltsuk First Nation—highlighting the use of multi-disciplinary datasets drawn from metadata records. Identifying knowledge gaps is key to achieving the comprehensive, accessible and interdisciplinary datasets and subsequent analyses necessary for new sustainability policies that meet both ecological and socioeconomic needs.

Spring conditions and habitat use of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) during arrival to the Mackenzie River Estuary.

Climate change is expected to impact Arctic marine mammals, as they may be particularly vulnerable to large annual variability in the environment. Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) occupy the circumpolar Arctic year-round, and seasonal movement patterns in this landscape are closely linked to sea ice and changing conditions. Here, we examine the association between beluga spring locations along the Mackenzie Shelf and three relevant habitat variables: sea ice (total concentration, floe size, and distance to ice edge), bathymetry and turbidity. Beluga locations in 2012 and 2013 were analyzed across the study area, as well as in three discrete subareas of the Mackenzie Shelf: Shallow Bay, Kugmallit Bay and Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula. In both years, beluga were found more than expected by chance in locations of open water/light ice concentrations and medium ice floes, and displayed a significant association with turbid water (i.e., increased freshwater flow). Largely ice-free conditions in 2012 led to a wide variation in habitat use in all three subareas. Beluga whales in 2012 preferred the ice edge and were found in heavier ice concentrations, larger floes and high turbidity water in the Shallow Bay subarea. Open water environments were preferred by beluga found in the Kugmallit Bay subarea. In contrast, heavy ice conditions in 2013 resulted in restricted habitat use and selection of shallow depth (<50 m) and low levels of turbidity. These results provide knowledge on spring habitat selection as well as insight into the adaptability of beluga under expected changes associated with climate and human activity in the Beaufort Sea.

Canada at a crossroad: the imperative for realigning ocean policy with ocean science.

Canada’s ocean ecosystem health and functioning is critical to sustaining a strong maritime economy and resilient coastal communities. Yet despite the importance of Canada’s oceans and coasts, federal ocean policy and management have diverged substantially from marine science in the past decade. In this paper, key areas where this is apparent are reviewed: failure to fully implement the Oceans Act, alterations to habitat protections historically afforded under Canada’s Fisheries Act, and lack of federal leadership on marine species at risk. Additionally, the capacity of the federal government to conduct and communicate ocean science has been eroded of late, and this situation poses a significant threat to current and future oceans public policy. On the eve of a federal election, these disconcerting threats are described and a set of recommendations to address them is developed. These trends are analyzed and summarized so that Canadians understand ongoing changes to the health of Canada’s oceans and the role that their elected officials can play in addressing or ignoring them. Additionally, we urge the incoming Canadian government, regardless of political persuasion, to consider the changes we have documented and commit to aligning federal ocean policy with ocean science to ensure the health of Canada’s oceans and ocean dependent communities.