Picture a peaceful ocean landscape where you can see nothing but horizon and sea birds flying over head. This is not just an image from a sea faring novel like Moby Dick but off Nova Scotia’s own shore. A group of scientists from Cape Breton University are trying to save this space and study its biodiversity, headed by Bruce Hatcher, who was the Chair of the event scheduled for Research Month at the university on Friday, March 15, 2019. Three scientists told the story of the Marine Protected Area off the coast of Scatarie Island.
A Marine Protected Area or MPA’s purpose, “Hatcher said,” is to restrict human activity for the benefit of non-humans” which in the end would benefit us and our survival on the planet. There are about 1600 of these spaces around the world. The implementation of the Ocean’s Act in Canada allows scientists across the country to protect the oceans.
One message that should be most alarming to Canadians is that, as Hatcher said, “Canada has a lot of [ocean] real estate but not a lot of protection.” By protecting our oceans, you can create more jobs, food, recreation, culture, and education. These scientists are looking for ways to engage the general population to get people interested in our ocean spaces.
Some ideas they have been working on include adventure tourism, an underwater observatory, and a virtual reality game which is in its beta form now. They also want a safe mooring site for divers as well as weather monitoring.
This Marine Protected Area’s ecosystem is an area of about 7500 km and reaches a depth of 400m. It is roughly 22 nautical miles off the coast of Scatarie Island. It contains a rich supply of sea life from fish to leather back turtles as well as sponges and other small organisms. One of the more fascinating finds is the igneous rock which was left behind after the melting of the glaciers during the ice age.
There are four points of engagement that these scientific researchers would like to see, one is for research and monitoring. They want a permanent base and underwater observatory but for this they need money. This leads to the second engagement, Stakeholders. They need people to fund their venture in underwater discovery. They also want public engagement to make the area more accessible to humans, namely sport divers.
Tim Rawlings, a professor and researcher said that, “this is an MPA that Canadians can experience first hand.” Therefore, a permanent base and underwater observatory is important. Rawlings said that they want to study “the changes in biodiversity over time.”
Right now, Rawlings said, his team of scientists is the first to use ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) in North America. This structure is a three-dimensional habitat built to collect sea life. One of the things they can do with this research is “determine faunal connections,” he says, as well as to file, order, class and subclass the organisms they find. They currently have three ARMS units deployed off Scatarie Island.
The Fish Harvesters Association have also implemented a BRUVS system, that is Baited Remote Underwater Video systems. One thing they have noticed is increased Cod and Halibut in the MPA off Scatarie.
The fishing industry would greatly benefit from the scientific development in the area as they would encourage “emerging and developing fisheries” Kurt Simons, researcher, said, “like sea cucumbers.” This in the end would be “insurance against poor management.”