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Young minds, deep oceans

Sunset on the CCGS Hudson.

By Mandy Cook

A major national marine biodiversity research initiative, led by a Memorial University marine scientist, is training the next generation of Canadian marine scientists by collaborating with experts from around the globe.

The NSERC Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe) is a network of researchers from 15 universities across Canada, and eight government laboratories of which Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is the major partner. It is also an offspring of the International Census of Marine Life – a count of more than 230,000 different marine species during the past 10 years by 2,700 scientists based worldwide.

Dr. Paul Snelgrove, professor of ocean sciences at Memorial’s Ocean Sciences Centre and director of CHONe, has recently returned from an Atlantic leg of the scientific mission aboard the CCGS Hudson in the Northeast Channel off the shores of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – covering an area of about 100 nautical miles. Graduate student researchers accompanied Dr. Snelgrove aboard the vessel to focus on seabed geology and biology, water column microbial communities and seabird ecology as a portion of the overarching research project. As well, Dr. Snelgrove worked in collaboration with DFO Chief Scientist Dr. Peter Lawton and Dr. Sam Bentley of Memorial’s Department of Earth Sciences who provided geological expertise.

“Canada has a lot of ocean to manage and conserve, and with such a along coastline and expertise that is thinly scattered across the country in universities and government labs, partnerships and collaboration are the only chance we have to do better,” said Dr. Snelgrove. “This philosophy is the guiding principle of CHONe.”

The research network emphasizes a multi-disciplinary and a multi-institutional collaborative approach, with the ultimate goal of providing new scientific knowledge to inform ocean policy development and ocean management, to the benefit of all Canadians.

An innovative aspect of the investigators’ research is the close integration of “exploration” efforts in deep waters (greater than 1000 metres in depth) with the development of manipulative, long-term investigations on marine ecological processes. The research team has also been mapping the structure of the seabed within the Northeast Channel Coral Conservation area – covering 424-square kilometres -- at an unprecedented level of detail (sub-metre resolution), and are now confident in being able to link optical (video-based) and acoustic (sonar-based) measures of coral distribution.

The CCGS Hudson was equipped with a ROPOS (remotely operated deep water submersible) – basically an underwater robot the size of a small car with a GPS system, high-definition video and digital cameras and manoeuvrable arms – to collect specimens and capture images.

Memorial is one of two lead universities that were aboard the CCGS Hudson – the other being Dalhousie University – with a team primarily made up of master’s and PhD students from the University of Victoria to Laval to Dalhousie to Memorial. Through their direct interactions with the researchers and their access to cutting edge technology in deep ocean research from biology to geology to engineering, the students can come to understand the ocean management implications of their own current research. They can then identify the next important research questions.

“Graduate students are the life blood of research in this country, and as the lines between disciplines in ocean science blur and technology advances give us new eyes and ears in the ocean, we owe it to these young scientists to show them what is possible and how they can use new tools to solve old and new problems,” said Dr. Snelgrove.

The scientific expedition left the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth on July 29 and returned Aug. 11. Besides the Northeast Channel, the two-week cruise covered explored the Jordan Basin, the German Bank and the Northeast Fan – reaching depths of 3,000 metres. Seabird and marine mammals have also taken place.

To learn more about the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network, please visit To visit the blog about the journey of the CCGS Hudson, go to