Graduate student rediscovers history

Sep 11th, 2015

By Jeff Green

Alumnus Eric Watton
Graduate student rediscovers history

Two 18th-century cannons precariously perched along the rugged cliffs of Ferryland are just some of the historic gems a Memorial alumnus has rediscovered as part of fieldwork research for his master’s degree.

Eric Watton, who holds a bachelor of science degree as well as a criminology certificate, is currently completing a master of environmental science degree under the supervision of Dr. Norm Catto, professor and current head of the Department of Geography.

He’s examining the effects of coastal erosion on rural parts of the province — particularly communities like Ferryland, which rely heavily on tourism for economic development. Coastal erosion has the potential to affect the future of many seaside communities, which are susceptible to erosion from higher sea levels or damaging storms.

“In a nutshell, heritage resources are being eroded, tourism sites are being impacted and there’s damage to infrastructure such as wharfs and breakwaters,” said Mr. Watton, who has completed extensive surveys for his graduate degree.

“Coastal erosion is a real issue for many communities and sites in the province.”While doing research in the Ferryland area, Mr. Watton has collected significant information regarding two possible larger ordnance pieces on Ferryland Head North.

Ordnance pieces are field artillery such as cannons.

“With the help of local residents, I have photographed and mapped most of the ordnance pieces on Bois Island, which is located just off Ferryland,” said Mr. Watton. “According to local knowledge, Dr. Barry Gaulton, an associate professor in the Department of Archaeology, and other sources, these ordnance pieces were placed in batteries in the mid-1700s. This represents a significant piece of heritage but also military history.”

He photographed the first cannon two years ago and visited Bois Island this summer. He says coastal erosion is impacting the artifacts via cliff erosion so he hopes the site can soon be fully documented.

“I have learned much about the causes of erosion and wanted to help residents understand their local area, but also foster a constructive conversation and knowledge base in the local context,” he explained.

For his part, Dr. Catto, who has been studying the impacts of climate variation and change in Newfoundland and Labrador for more than 25 years, says some of his work is focused on providing municipalities with practical research in order for towns and cities to develop options to address vulnerabilities and make long-term plans when it comes to coastal erosion.

“Regardless of the cause, coastal erosion has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen,” he noted. “Erosion is a natural process: it only becomes a problem or hazard when it affects people. Our studies focus on the processes, the rates, and impacts on people and infrastructure.”

Grad school: Hectic but rewarding
Despite working full time as an environmental scientist with the provincial Department of Environment and Conservation and raising two young children, Mr. Watton says he’s been able to juggle a hectic research schedule thanks to his supportive wife. He did most of his studying during evenings, weekends and on work holidays and completed field research during longer summer evenings.

He says he was attracted to Memorial’s master’s program because of his passion for the environment — and also the chance to collaborate with Memorial’s high-calibre and respected researchers like Dr. Catto.

“I work in the public service and believe in helping the public wherever possible,” he noted. “But people like Dr. Catto have — and continue — to inspire me, academically and in my job. He has done very significant work with all levels of government and is highly respected. He is one of the leading researchers and professors in coastal processes, sea level, mitigation and many other areas.”


Alumni Affairs and Development

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000