21, 2000, Gazette)
science in Bonne Bay
Sitting on the coast of Bonne Bay, with such landmarks as Gros
Morne Mountain and the Tablelands visible in the distance, Norris
Point seems to await the pleasure of passing sightseers. Yet,
this scenic town is also home to an intensive program of summer
study offered through Memorials Biology department.
It is here that the universitys Bonne Bay Field Station
is located, a facility that every summer sees the arrival of
up to 20 students who have signed on to find out what science
beyond the classroom is all about.
From May to August,
the Biology Department offers several courses at the field station
which are open to students with at least a second year university
background in biology or environmental science.
At present, the station consists of three buildings. Two former
residential homes have been converted into teaching and living
facilities and a former merchant store is home to the stations
aquarium systems. Not all of the students can board at the station;
some stay at bed and breakfasts or with local families in Norris
Dr. Bob Hooper, who is responsible for organizing the summer
activities at Bonne Bay, said that since the program was begun
in 1979, the demand for courses has been high. In fact, several
students have to be turned away every year because the high level
of interest exceeds the available space.
While some of the courses involve a mixture of class work and
field trips, two separate two-week field schools are also offered.
Dr. Hooper explained that the first of these schools is designed
to be introductory, discussing principal marine environments,
organisms and techniques.
The more advanced school requires students to complete an experimental
project under Dr. Hoopers supervision, which they research
and design prior to leaving for Bonne Bay in May. Students with
proper certification can even incorporate scuba diving into their
projects. This course targets, but is not restricted to, honours
According to Dr. Hooper, the purpose of holding courses at the
field station is to give students an intimate understanding of
Were trying to get our students out of the classroom
and into the sea, he said.
It is this hands-on approach to learning that seems to attract
people to the program. The opportunity to study marine species
in their natural habitat was frequently mentioned by students
as a highlight of their time in Bonne Bay.
Mike Kelly, a fifth-year biology
student, said that the biology courses offered on the West Coast
were the best he had ever taken and, in fact, had an effect on
his direction of study.
The courses in Bonne Bay put a whole new perspective on
things for me, said Mr. Kelly. I would have never
considered doing an honours project if I hadnt done the
field courses in Bonne Bay.
Fourth-year student Susan Hynes was similarly impressed.
If I had to address new university biology students, my
advice to them would be, do the courses as soon as possible;
they remind you of why you are studying biology in the first
The Bonne Bay Field Station owes its existence in part to good
fortune. According to Dr. Hooper, Memorial came to own the property
by inheritance after it had been used for a research project.
While this acquisition in was itself a stoke of luck, the real
benefit came from of the propertys location.
As it turns out, there is an incredible diversity of aquatic
species in that part of Newfoundland, due mostly to the great
variability of geology, landscape and habitat types throughout
the area. In addition, Bonne Bay is sheltered and thus offers
safe boating conditions.
Dr. Hooper said, Ive spent 30 years now, all around
the coast of Newfoundland and if I were to, without bias, choose
a place to put (the field station) anywhere in the whole province,
thats where Id put it.
Of course, being on the doorstep of Gros Morne National Park
is itself an advantage of the stations location. The natural
beauty of the area is another drawcard for students considering
the Bonne Bay field courses.
Fourth-year student Juliana Barry came from Nova Scotia to study
biology at Memorial.
At first I had planned to register for courses at the main
campus over the summer, but ... there were no courses offered
for biology students, she said. However, a friend
told me about the courses in Norris Point and really encouraged
me to go. So I had thought about it and decided to go since
I had never been to Gros Morne National Park.
While the program, as it exists now, obviously appeals to students,
there is always room for change and the coordinators of the Bonne
Bay school actively seek student feedback. Suggestions theyve
received include the integration of more courses dealing with
marine environmental science, sea-birds and marine mammals, as
well as the introduction of non-marine biology courses.
Though the program may undergo some changes in the future, one
thing will certainly remain the same: the incomparability of
the Bonne Bay experience, said Dr. Hooper.