First year Applied Coastal Ecology (ACE) students from Northwest Community College (NWCC) recently completed a three-day field lab in Oona River, a small community on Porcher Island, south of Prince Rupert.
During this introduction to forest and river ecosystems on British Columbia’s northwest coast, students got hands-on experience in various activities. They captured fry for identification, learned about the salmon life cycle and collected plant samples in an old growth rainforest to produce a herbarium. An afternoon was also spent snorkelling in the Oona estuary to survey its biodiversity.
Jan Lemon, Hatchery Manager for the Oona River Resource Association (ORRA), facilitated the ACE Field Lab. ORRA is involved in salmon enhancement, stream assessment, and habitat monitoring with a focus on public awareness and education.
“It’s so great to see bright young minds begin their studies with such willingness to make positive contributions to the sustainable management of our environment,” says Lemon. “This is possibly the most diverse group yet in the 14 years that we’ve done this field lab.”
Some students hail from as far away as Bangladesh, Saskatchewan and Alberta, while others are from Vancouver and the northwest.
“I heard about ACE from a friend who really enjoyed the program,” says Stephanie Spencer, a former journeyman mechanic from Edmonton, now enrolled in the program.
After taking an ACE course last spring, Stephanie worked for a professor from the University of Northern BC where she conducted salt-water marsh and biomass surveys near the Cassiar Cannery.
“I’m originally from the coast and love the ocean and outdoors, so I thought ACE would be a perfect fit, and so far I’m loving my experience,” says Spencer.
Charmaine Carr-Harris, a 2006 ACE graduate from Prince Rupert joined the group. She spoke about salmon habitat, and the Oona River's intricately connected ecosystems while students watched hundreds of pink salmon running up the Oona.
Carr-Harris is completing her thesis for a Master of Science in Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on investigating the growth and survival of Skeena River sockeye salmon in the early marine environment. To collect data, she led a large-scale field study in the Skeena estuary in 2013 and 2014.
“The ACE program was the foundation for my career as a scientist,” she explains. “It enabled me to gain practical skills that really benefitted the research projects that I've worked on, in this amazing North Coast setting. And being in the program introduced me to Oona River, which was life-changing for me.”
One of the highlights of the trip was watching a humpback whale surface four times in the same bay where students were kayaking and snorkelling.
“The ACE students left Oona very much in awe of the experience and feeling wholly excited to begin their journey of learning about coastal ecology at NWCC,” said Pouyan Mahboubi, ACE Program Coordinator and University Credit Instructor at NWCC.
In the two-year ACE diploma program students acquire skills and experience for careers in coastal natural resources management, environmental monitoring, ecosystem restoration, and many others.