Last August Trevor Swerdfager, Simon Courtenay, graduate student Liya Murray and 11 undergraduate students drove to St. Andrews, New Brunswick to launch a brand new two-week SERS field course titled: ERS 374 – The Ocean, Human Impacts and Sustainability. This was not your usual marine biology field course. This course moved quickly through an overview of the ocean, explored human activities and impacts, particularly in the coastal zone, and then looked at some of the brilliant work that is going on to make our activities more sustainable. 

In previous lives both Trevor and Simon worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) so they were able to use their networks of contacts to show students the state of the marine sector right now and the wide range of careers that are available. Trevor said, “As people who know me can tell you, I’m not much of a talker so being able to open the doors of Canada’s first marine research station - St. Andrews Biological Station - to let students hear first-hand from the leaders in marine science and management was just such a thrill!” 

During the first week of the course, students particularly loved oceanographic sampling aboard the 15 m research vessel Fundy Spray, visiting a salmon farm in Passamaquoddy Bay, getting to know the animals living in the largest intertidal zone in the world and kayaking Musquash Marine Protected Area. Then, students crossed the Bay of Fundy on the Fundy Rose ferry and headed to Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, their base for week two.

MSVU looks across the innermost section of Halifax Harbour, Bedford Basin, at Canada’s largest centre for ocean research, Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO). BIO is home to members of DFO, Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Hydrographic Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Geological Survey of Canada and National Defence. A tour of BIO included a walk-through of the CCGS Alfred Needler, a 50 m offshore fishery science vessel, and a demonstration of oil dispersion in the wave tank facility of the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research. Then, it was on to Halifax Shipyard to see a new class of ice-breaker Arctic patrol vessels being built and to the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, or COVE, where the private sector is developing new technologies for ocean monitoring. At Dalhousie University, students learned about climate change impacts on the ocean and how fish movements are being mapped by the Ocean Tracking Network. Internationally renowned marine ecologist Boris Worm told us about his Ocean School initiative to share exciting new developments in marine conservation with young people.

Overall, both students and instructors thoroughly enjoyed ERS 374 and came back with all kinds of ideas for 2023. The second iteration of The Ocean, Human Impacts and Sustainability, with 16 students this time, heads out for St. Andrews, NB on August 8.

Banner image: Students visit a salmon farm in Passamaquoddy Bay, near St. Andrews, NB, August 10, 2022. Photo by Simon Courtenay.