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Co-op student of the year planning to prevent alien species invasion

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Young woman holds up a report reading

Imagine a future where invasive species have taken over the Great Lakes. Asian carp are practically the only fish. Native fish stocks, and therefore fisheries, have collapsed. Algae grows thick in waters where people used to swim. Zebra mussels block water and effluent pipes, affecting industry and drinking water.

If that disaster scenario never unfolds, you can in part thank Samantha Dupré, the Faculty of Environment’s co-op student of the year for 2012.

The fourth-year environment and resource studies student recently did an eight-month co-op term as a research assistant at the International Joint Commission (IJC), which works on water issues that affect both Canada and the United States.

Initially hired only to assist her supervisor, she ended up taking on a much larger role on a project doing risk assessment and monitoring of invasive species in the Great Lakes. She talked to 200 different experts and helped draft policy recommendations for governments on both sides of the border. She also did a map analysis of where monitoring exists and where more needs to be done.

Because it’s nearly impossible to eradicate invasive species once they have become established, invaders must be detected and dealt with rapidly. That’s why it’s important for all levels of government to have monitoring programs and protocols in place before threats emerge, says Dupré.

Among the recommendations Dupré helped draft was to have universities and other institutions already doing research in the Great Lakes – even if it’s on other topics – also be on the lookout for invasive species. 

Another recommendation was to work more with First Nations, which aren’t under the jurisdiction of federal, provincial, or state-run agencies and may not have monitoring programs or plans for what to do if invasive species appear.

“Right now we definitely don’t have a basin-wide detection program in place. There isn’t really funding for monitoring and there isn’t a co-ordinated effort between the two countries, so that’s what the IJC thinks really needs to happen,” says Dupré.

The project manager role Dupré took on would normally have been done by a master’s or PhD student, but the contractor who was supposed to do it backed out, and Dupré impressed her supervisor enough to entrust her with the task.

“Being able to contribute to the final recommendations to the U.S. and Canada really feels like you’re making a difference,” says Dupré. “I can see how what I learned in school is really applicable... you can see how research leads to results.”

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