The pilot boat glides alongside the Polar Prince and the pilot skips up the pilot ladder in three steps. He made that look much too easy – quite a contrast to our struggles when climbing off of the zodiacs. We are coming into Halifax where our voyage will end. Soon the crew tie the Polar Prince alongside 'The Cove' and the laborious process of unloading begins. This time the crew manage to crane off the deck container with all our gear still in it. Which makes loading everything up into the Huntsman field trailer much easier.
The Crew finish the voyage in Halifax. Credit: Students on Ice Foundation.
On the five-hour drive home to St Andrews Christy and I have plenty of time to reflect on the voyage. We are bringing back coolers full of specimens for our DNA barcoding project. Other scientists on board have gathered their own samples and data – everything from lobster microplastics, through pond eDNA, to kelp and bird observations. The Polar Prince enabled the science team to reach spots such as the remote Pearl Island and Seal Islands. It also allowed them to gather samples from many different locations throughout the Bay of Fundy and the eastern shore of Nova Scotia.
Scientists from the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources are excited that they have been able to sample ponds and place baited trail cameras on six different islands in only a few days when it would normally take them days to reach one. This will let them see if mammal species, which can be an issue for the bird species, are present on the island. Brogan, an honours student at Dalhousie, has been able to map kelp beds around several islands, using her go pro drop cameras. The evidence she has gathered may be used to plan and extend Marine Protected areas. Loic, our science co-ordinator, and another team from Dalhousie have been collecting environmental DNA water samples. Ada has been collecting cores of mud from island ponds, which will enable the biological history of them to be studied.
Doug Hynes of the Canadian Wildlife Service collecting eDNA from a pond. Credit: Students on Ice Foundation.
As well as achieving our scientific goals, it has been great to be part of the broader expedition and connect with the others on board. One of the aims of the Ocean Conservation Expedition was to promote discussion on conservation issues and forge collaborations between different organisations. These collaborations may help address some of the issues in the future. Canada is one of more than 100 countries that have committed to protect at least 30% of their lands and oceans by 2030. This is a goal set by the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. However, getting there will involve much scientific study. There must be consultation with indigenous groups on whose unceded waters proposed areas lie. Also with other community members, particularly those who use the sea for their livelihood.
Participants take part in a workshop on Marine Protected Areas. Credit: Students on Ice Foundation.
Our last stop of the voyage was Layboldt Island. This is part of the 100 wild islands group, one of the last remaining intact and ecologically rich island groups of its size in North America. In 2014, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust launched an ambitious campaign to protect the entire archipelago. To date the campaign has protected over 85% of the 100 wild islands. The islands are home to over 100 bird species and have habitats ranging from bogs, barrens, to coastal rainforest (Learn more here: www.100wildislands.ca). Munju Ravindra has joined the voyage in her capacity as a senior advisor at Parks Canada. Munju's family used to own Layboldt Island but they donated it to the Nature Trust of Nova Scotia so they could protect it for future generations. With a catch in her voice, she tells the evening meeting how special it was to have her former island visited by the voyage.
Caption: Munju (second from right front row) shared Layboldt Island with the team. Credit: Students on Ice.
Today’s youth will have the job of maintaining the marine protected area network that is created. Students on Ice has brought students of diverse backgrounds on board with us to gain an insight into marine careers. Trevor Hester, from an indigenous community in Northern Quebec, has gone from having no zodiac experience to skillfully piloting one back from our last island stop. Melanie quizzed everyone on board about their work and now hopes to study biology at university. My dive buddy Millie jets back to Australia for the next stop on her scholarship tour. I hope the expedition has given her a useful insight into scientific diving for taxonomic studies. She promises to stay in touch, and I’d love to visit her in New Zealand some time – I can take the rather soggy socks she left behind!
Trevor pilots a Zodiac. Credit: Students on Ice Foundation.
Student Sophie Collins gains some taxonomy experience, helping us sort our samples. Credit: Students on Ice Foundation.
From listening to Chris (Old Man Luedecke) playing his banjo in the zodiacs while Sky repaired a broken engine, to beach swims, being led by onboard artist Meg in ‘creative corner’ activities, gathering to watch sunset from the bow, and some fantastic meals we’ve all shared some great times. Geoff concludes our final briefing, telling us we’re all now part of the Students on Ice family. We hug and wave to our shipmates as they depart. But hopefully it’s not goodbye, I hear there are plans for future expeditions……..
Expedition artist-in-residence Meg O’Hara finding inspiration on Seal Island. Credit: Students on Ice Foundation.
Old Man Luedecke playing on Layboldt Island. Credit: Students on Ice Foundation.