Rivers to Oceans: next gen of estuarine scientists

Meet the next generation of estuarine scientists!  All studying under CRI Science Directors, Dr. Simon Courtenay (Waterloo), Dr. Michael van den Heuvel (UPEI), Dr. André St-Hilaire (INRS), and Dr. Mark Servos (Waterloo), they are outstanding students attracted to CRI’s reputation for applied research and partnerships with coastal zone managers.

Their research is already making an impact with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of Prince Edward Island who are using CRI students’ data, tools and models to support management of marine protected areas and integrated marine management initiatives. They are also being used to assist in the design and implementation of monitoring programs to support estuary management decisions in the Northumberland Strait and Bay of Fundy.

June is full of watery celebrations - June 8 is #WorldOceansDay, June 11 is #CanadianRiversWeek and June 8-14th #RiverstoOceansWeek celebrates their connection and reminds us that taking care of our water is a shared responsibility.


Mike Coffin
University of Prince Edward Island
Supervisors: Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Eutrophication in estuaries of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.  My research helped develop a predictive model relating hourly dissolved oxygen measurements, specifically frequency of hypoxia and oxygen supersaturation, to nutrient loading and water residence time. This study takes advantage of recent technological advances that enable high frequency measurement of dissolved oxygen which, based on this study, has proven to be an effective proxy for both productivity and oxygen demand.  This research provides an easily adapted, and inexpensive, monitoring framework for temperate estuaries and will help inform management decisions which will ultimately result in improved water quality for invertebrates and fish. Using this monitoring framework, managers can determine the degree of impact that is acceptable and set watershed specific nutrient loading targets. Given that anthropogenic pressure on coastal systems is increasing, I would like to continue working on eutrophication impacts on the biological community. I believe restoration and/or remediation efforts are required to maintain ecosystem functioning in coastal systems


Sondra Eger
University of Waterloo
Supervisor: Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Integrated regional approach to sustainable management of coastal and marine areas in Atlantic Canada. My research takes marine spatial planning, a globally recognized approach, and seeks to determine how to develop and implement the approach within the Bay of Fundy in Canada. This research will provide insight and recommendations for a regional decision making framework in the Bay of Fundy that considers cumulative effects and integrated management of coastal and marine systems in order to support the transition to a more sustainable future.  I am interested in further understanding how to implement integrated management plans in coastal and marine areas to support the sustainable use and development of natural resources.


Jesse Hitchcock
University of Prince Edward Island
Supervisor: Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Spatial distribution and health of eelgrass (Zostera marina) in estuaries in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and assessment of the cumulative effects of multiple stressors to develop a monitoring framework for the region. My research shows that there is more variation within estuaries in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence region than there is between estuaries. For example, eelgrass in the upper estuary (closer to the head of tide) often faces the cumulative effects of multiple stressors such as increased eutrophication, lower salinity, and less tidal flushing. This work demonstrates the importance of considering eelgrass along the full extent of its range within an estuary in order to see the whole picture. Understanding the natural gradients existing in estuaries will help the scientific community develop better questions for future work in these ecosystems and whole-estuary data can be incorporated into regional management and monitoring frameworks for the region.  After the completion of my thesis I'd like to use my knowledge and skills to ensure that smart policy and management decisions are made and followed through on with regards to environmental sustainability.


Jessica Kidd
University of Prince Edward Island
Supervisors Dr. Simon Courtenay, Dr. Mark Servos

Research Focus and Impact: How the health of estuaries is monitored in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.  I have been assessing the study design of the Community Aquatic Monitoring Program (CAMP), a long-term estuary monitoring program, to determine if it is limited in its scientific application. My research will assist the program administrators and managers in the Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Coalition on Sustainability in determining the future direction and application of the program. My research will also help fill a current knowledge gap regarding the utility of community-based monitoring programs, which is especially important as the popularity of these programs is increasing internationally. Additionally, testing the effect of sampling effort and design will contribute to improving fish-based indices of estuarine condition.


Zacharie Sirabahenda
Institut national de le recherche scientifique
Supervisors Dr. André St-Hilaire, Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Suspended Sediment Concentration (SSC) monitoring and sediment dynamic characterization in order to adapt or develop tools for sediment loads and SSC estimation using statistical and deterministic approaches. My research will be used to develop a watershed vulnerability index model for sediment erosion and a multi-watershed model for estimation of suspended sediments within rivers.  This work will be used to document the state of suspended sediments loads in PEI rivers and help to make recommendations about the best choice for sediment monitoring techniques.  Development of accurate sediment modelling tools is important to managers making decisions for conservation planning of watersheds.


Nicole Stamnes
University of Waterloo
Supervisor: Dr. Simon Courtenay, Roland Cormier

Research Focus and Impact: Conducting a policy risk analysis to assess the adequacy of Canadian legislation, policies, and scientific advice for protecting estuaries of Prince Edward Island from harmful eutrophic events. My research aims to demonstrate how a legislative framework that connects monitoring programs, environmental indicators and associated targets to policy objectives would benefit Canadian jurisdictions for more informed decision making on protecting the environment from anthropogenic activities. Both decision makers and scientists will benefit from my research as it describes a gap within our current management system and the need for a framework, which would improve environmental assessments. This research could be a stepping-stone for developing a national framework to assess environmental status in all marine regions.  I would like to contribute a new way of thinking on how we assess the existing management system to identify gaps and make improvements.