Julie Carpenter and Brooke DavisHeiltsuk marine planner Julie Carpenter (left) and NSERC undergraduate researcher Brooke Davis with devices they use to track how the density and size of intertidal and sub-tidal snails, chitons, limpets, abalone and kelp differ across sites varying in sea otter occupancy time.

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Hakai Network studies coastal ecosystems

January 31, 2012
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By Barry Shell

When professor Anne Salomon takes her team of marine scientists, students and divers to BC’s central coast they stay at the Hakai Beach Institute, a new research station loaded with amenities on Calvert Island.

It’s part of a major new ecological initiative called the Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management that aims to apply ecosystem-based management to the central coast’s many forest and fishery resources.

Funded with a multi-million-dollar, eight-year agreement from the Tula Foundation, the Hakai Network is housed at the Burnaby campus under the directorship of Ken Lertzman, professor of resource and environmental management (REM).

Network participants include SFU professors Salomon (REM), Dana Lepofsky (archaeology) and John Reynolds (biology), as well as researchers from several other universities and four First Nations: the Heiltsuk, Wuikinux, Nuxalk, and Kitasoo.

“This is not your traditional scientific field-based model,” says Faculty of Environment dean John Pierce. “It’s very much participatory, collaborative and an outreach program to build capacity for First Nations.”

Working with local Heiltsuk people, for example, Salomon’s team have started a project to investigate the causes and consequences of Central Coast herring declines and another to determine how undersea kelp forests support terrestrial forests.

“It’s amazing how much knowledge we’ve already exchanged,” she says. “We had this really elaborate experiment planned to measure the rate at which herring eggs are lost to predation.

But by using First Nations knowledge to redesign the experiment, the researchers obtained results more quickly than anticipated. As a result, Salomon’s student Brittany Keeling will be able to publish the results after just one season, something that was totally unexpected.

Pierce says researchers are finding that the partnerships are making their research more diverse, more ambitious—and more satisfying.

“It’s research that matters,” says Pierce, “because you are helping people and protecting ecosystems.”

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