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"Research is the art of seeing what everyone else has seen,
and doing what no-one else has done."

Anonymous

Coasts Under Stress

{CUS Team}
CUS Team

Milestones are often a way to mark time, to reflect upon the past and look to the future. Coasts Under Stress (CUS), a bi-coastal research project involving Memorial and the University of Victoria, has just passed its midterm review, and is approximately halfway through its five-year mandate. Coasts Under Stress is headed up by principal investigator, Dr. Rosemary Ommer of the University of Victoria, who has a long history with Memorial's History Department, and is a former director of Memorial's Institute of Social and Economic Research.

CUS is truly an interdisciplinary effort, perhaps more so than has ever been attempted at Memorial before. One of the strengths of the project is that it allows for students to research in an environment different from traditional research, thus helping to produce a new generation of researchers. Even its funding reflects this unique partnership, as CUS is funded through both the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), as well as government, First Nations groups, non-governmental organizations and participating universities.

A massive project, CUS is comprised of five research "arms" (representing the metaphor of a sea star) that incorporate its specific goals. There are more than two hundred faculty and students working with local communities in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Although there are twenty research sub-components contained within CUS, overarching themes prevail to tie it all together. Research focuses on the impact of environmental and social restructuring on human and environmental health. In the end, CUS hopes to inform policy makers on the implications of this restructuring on both people and the environment. As Dr. Bill Montevecchi, Psychology, CUS East Coast Co-Chair expressed it, "we hope to synthesize the environmental and social and health issues related to these coastal areas in Newfoundland and Labrador and in British Columbia, and make suggestions as to how policies could be developed to make a difference."

At the heart of CUS's interdisciplinary nature lies a reliance on scientific, local and indigenous knowledge. For example, graduate student Heather Chaffey's M.Sc. thesis integrates scientific and local ecological knowledge (LEK) through consultation with hunters and fishers on the changing conditions of eider duck populations in southern Labrador. Dr. Montevecchi, on of Ms. Chaffey's supervisors, finds it interesting as a natural scientist to integrate LEK with "hard" scientific data. He states, "we use our information and use their feedback, look for matches and mismatches, and hope to provide some kind of validation." Dr. Barbara Neis, Sociology, Ms Chaffey's other supervisor, also remarks that there may be "tensions between fitting local information and the data collected at larger spatial scales." However, utilizing LEK to complement the scientific data is integral to CUS as a whole, and can provide a unique perspective when making recommendations to policy makers.

{Dr. Barbara Neis with Research assistant Danny Ings}
Dr. Barbara Neis with Research assistant Danny Ings

A number of other researchers within the CUS program are examining various facets of health: health of environments, communities and people living in these communities. By studying communities impacted by fishing, forestry, mining and oil and gas developments, these researchers want to understand how human and environmental health has been affected. Dr. Stephen Bornstein's, Political Science research involves health policy. Dr. Bornstein's project, scheduled to begin in the middle of CUS, is just now getting underway. He and other colleagues will look at the ways in which the health of a community changes over time, and how local and provincial decision makers in Newfoundland and Labrador have experienced these changes. A parallel investigation will be conducted in British Columbia at the University of Victoria.

Of course, different disciplinary approaches can, in the words of Dr. Montevecchi, "provide a debate that is interesting, engaging, and sometimes frustrating. We have to work it through with each other, and find common ground." However, all involved value the results that interdisciplinarity brings. Dr. Bornstein adds, "[CUS] is complex and interdisciplinary. I've never seen anything like it before. There is a real intellectual cross-fertilization between humanists, historians, natural and social sciences." And that kind of debate is, as reflected in the work completed thus far, working well for all.

{Memorial University of Newfoundland}