In­va­sives, UAVs & geo­caching at SLRIES

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FRONT PAGE - ALAN S. HALE

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the St. Lawrence River In­sti­tute were at city hall on Mon­day to give their an­nual up­date to Corn­wall city coun­cil.

Dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, the in­ter­na­tion­ally-rec­og­nized re­search fa­cil­ity gave coun­cil a run­down on what it’s been up to for the past year.

It also col­lected plenty of ku­dos from coun­cil­lors.

“I’ve seen first-hand the great work the river in­sti­tute does through its cleanups and other ini­tia­tives,” said Coun. Justin Town­dale, who is the city rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the river in­sti­tute’s board. “The im­pact you have on young peo­ple is in­cred­i­ble ... and you see those young peo­ple want to en­gage with science, so they go away and come back with de­grees and PhDs It’s fan­tas­tic.”

Ac­cord­ing to ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Jeff Ri­dal, the in­sti­tute has plenty of projects on the go at the mo­ment, some of them new and some of them on­go­ing.

For in­stance, re­searchers are still work­ing on an up­com­ing re­port on the health of the St. Lawrence River. This is one of the largest projects the in­sti­tute is cur­rently en­gaged in. Work on it be­gan last year, and the re­lease of the re­port is ten­ta­tively set for 2020.

“This will be a very col­lab­o­ra­tive re­port with a lot of up­per St. Lawrence part­ners. We are look­ing at in­di­ca­tors and try­ing to fill in data gaps,” ex­plained Ri­dal. “The goal is to cre­ate a pub­lic-friendly and easy to com­pre­hend health re­port that will show what work needs to be done in the fu­ture.”

Data for that re­port is also com­ing from some of the smaller projects the in­sti­tute is work­ing on, in­clud­ing Fish Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Nearshore Sur­vey, con­ducted with the Mo­hawk Coun­cil of Ak­we­sasne.

The sur­vey is us­ing small fish as an in­di­ca­tor for the health of the river, and this year has led to the dis­cov­ery of a new fish species in the St.Lawrence. Un­for­tu­nately, that isn’t a good thing.

“It’s an in­va­sive species known as the tube-nosed goby, which is a rel­a­tive of the round goby that every­one knows. It is mak­ing its way into the river, which is not a very pos­i­tive thing,” said Ri­dal. “On the other hand, we have been see­ing lots of sen­si­tive species that are thought to be at-risk more than we have in the past.”

One fish species that does not ap­pear to be get­ting bet­ter is the north­ern pike, which has been un­der­go­ing a long pop­u­la­tion de­cline in the river. The in­sti­tute’s health as­sess­ment lab is look­ing at fac­tors that may be con­tribut­ing to this such as habi­tat qual­ity.

Some­thing that was dis­cov­ered dur­ing the Great St. Lawrence River Cleanups the in­sti­tute has helped or­ga­nize for the past sev­eral years, is that de­bris be­ing tossed in the river is not help­ing the pike ei­ther. Shop­ping carts in par­tic­u­lar ap­pear to be a big prob­lem.

“Last year we pulled up five shop­ping carts and all of them had dead fish in them , and many were north­ern pike,” said Karen Cooper, out­reach of­fi­cer.

The in­sti­tute has part­nered with Clark­son Univer­sity and On­tario Power Gen­er­a­tion to place sen­sors in­side hy­dro­elec­tric dams to bet­ter mon­i­tor water flow. That data has al­lowed re­searchers to start de­tailed mod­el­ling of the flow of the river as it goes by Corn­wall.

An­other big project is cen­tred on the wet­lands in the St. Lawrence River, which is in­cor­po­rat­ing the used of un­manned ae­rial ve­hi­cles (UAVs).

“The key thing we are ex­cited about here is the de­vel­op­ment of UAVs or drones. It’s an amaz­ingly ca­pa­ble and grow­ing tech­nique that we are cre­at­ing a cen­tre ex­cel­lence around and us­ing them for re­search,” said Ri­dal.

The river labs team, which serves as the busi­ness wing of the in­sti­tute, has been bring­ing rev­enues to fund the re­search in by pro­vid­ing ser­vices to busi­ness clients. This year, its mem­bers have been work­ing with over 50 craft brew­eries across On­tario and a few other prov­inces.

“They say good water makes good beer, so they are very in­ter­ested in water qual­ity, waste­water dis­posal, those sorts of things,” said the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

The in­sti­tute’s ed­u­ca­tion team has con­tin­ued to pro­vide science pro­gram­ming for schools and reached over 7,000 stu­dents in 2017. They also did a project with En­vi­ron­ment Canada to find geo­caching lo­ca­tions in parks across and wildlife ar­eas across Canada.

ALAN S. HALE/CORN­WALL STAN­DARD-FREEHOLDER

St. Lawrence River In­sti­tute board chair Wal­ter Oeg­gerli, right, Dr. Jeff Ri­dal and Karen Cooper dur­ing the in­sti­tute's an­nual up­date to coun­cil on Mon­day.

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