Newly Announced Coastal Ocean Research Institute aims to increase our understanding of Coastal Ecosystems

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At a press conference on May 27, 2014, the Vancouver Aquarium’s President and CEO Dr. John Nightingale announced the creation of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute. The multi-disciplinary and collaborative institute will be devoted to systematically documenting the health of our coastal ecosystems, and will be the first of its kind in Canada, the country that features the world’s longest coastline; over 243,000 kilometres.

Population growth, and the accompanying expansion in industry, including shipping, fishing, port construction, aquaculture, and coastal logging, among others, is affecting coastal environments in ways that are not fully understood. One main reason is that while considerable research is done by scientists and researchers from universities, federal and provincial agencies, and others, the resulting data is not necessarily aggregated, analyzed and communicated in a systematic way.

“There’s a major gap in the understanding and management of our coastal environments,” said Vancouver Aquarium CEO John Nightingale. “We’re launching the Vancouver Aquarium Coastal Ocean Research Institute to create a baseline for how our marine ecosystems are doing today and to deepen our understanding of future changes.”

In the field of environmental sciences, individual scientists often collaborate on research projects, but there is often less crossover between research programs or agencies. Furthermore, given short funding cycles, finite research projects rarely go on long enough to ascertain trends, and Canada is rapidly losing valuable information as retiring scientists leave the field.

The Institute will focus on building a much needed collaborative approach to harness wide-ranging, but scattered, research efforts and scientific data in order to provide scientists, academics, governments and the public with an annual set of indices describing the state of our coastal ecosystems.

“This is not a stop-gap or short-term measure,” said Nightingale. “This is a minimum 50-year commitment to provide a comprehensive, ongoing assessment of our coastal marine ecosystems through communicating sets of indices on a variety of coastal ecosystems. For the first time in Canada, we’re establishing an Institute that will focus its efforts on the study of our coastal environments, aggregating and analyzing the data into an annual set of indices, which will be publically shared to inform key policy, planning and conservation decisions that will shape future uses of the coastal zone.”

The Aquarium is uniquely positioned to foster new collaborations required to amalgamate and analyze data from a network of researchers to provide a more robust, long-term assessment of our coastal marine ecosystems. With its long history of ocean conservation and recognized non-advocacy voice, the Aquarium will provide the stability, scientific independence and permanence needed for the Institute’s success.

Three current Vancouver Aquarium research programs —Marine Mammal Research Program, the recently established Ocean Pollution Research Program, and Howe Sound Research Program — will become part of the Institute, as the research they conduct directly contribute to a greater understanding of the health of our coastal ecosystems. While the Institute will have the capacity to conduct original research, it is expected most research, data and information for the Institute’s core monitoring and reporting will also come from collaborating researchers and research programs.

The Vancouver Aquarium Coastal Ocean Research Institute is grateful for its generous founding funding partners Sitka Foundation and North Growth Foundation. The Institute also welcomes initial research partners Pacific Salmon Foundation and Hakai Beach Institute, with others to come.

The new Institute will operate within the Aquarium’s overall non-profit structure, but will function independently with its own board of directors. Funding will be provided by a consortium of the Aquarium, concerned donors, sponsors and foundations; it will operate independently of any particular funding partner.

The announcement comes hot off the heels of protests against cetacean captivity, and the recent letter sent by renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Speaking in response to questions regarding Goodall’s letter urging the aquarium to stop keeping marine mammals in captivity, the aquarium president said he was “surprised” by her letter and that he thought it was “a very uncharacteristic move.”

Image: Flikr | Steve Snodgrass

 

Vancouver Aquarium Coastal Ocean Research Institute 

Established to measure and monitor the health of coastal ecosystems on Canada’s West Coast, the Vancouver Aquarium Coastal Ocean Research Institute brings together scientists focused on protecting our oceans.www.vanaqua.org/oceanresearch

Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium is a non-profit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. www.vanaqua.org

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Andres Markwart Contributor Editor at Vancity Buzz, covering stories pertaining to the environment, politics, and the arts.
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