Excitement mounting: Memorial and province set to benefit from Ocean Frontier Institute

Sep 16th, 2016

By Jeff Green

The Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), an historic partnership between Memorial, Dalhousie University and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI).
Excitement mounting: Memorial and province set to benefit from Ocean Frontier Institute

The largest single federal investment for research in Memorial’s history is stirring up excitement and opportunities for future research growth.

The federal government announced on Sept. 6 nearly $100 million for the creation of the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), an historic partnership between Memorial, Dalhousie University and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). The investment was made through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

Safe and sustainable

The OFI will focus on solutions for safe and sustainable ocean development. Through its unique partnership with its research partners, Memorial will lead breakthroughs in four key areas: sustainable fisheries; sustainable aquaculture; marine safety; and ocean data and technology.

‘Critical’ research

Dr. Paul Snelgrove, professor of biology and ocean sciences, has been appointed Memorial’s interim associate scientific director for the OFI. He says the research is critical.

“The Northwest Atlantic is a major oceanographic hotspot for ocean productivity and global climate, and is also the heart of the Atlantic Canadian economy,” he told the Gazette.

“The oceans have sustained Atlantic Canada since the late 15th century but sustainability depends on excellent science that transcends boundaries. The Ocean Frontier Institute will harness the excellence at Memorial and Dalhousie, as well as UPEI, to ensure that our oceans, and all that they provide, will sustain us for many more years to come.”

Multi-disciplinary research

Memorial’s OFI researchers will come from various disciplines and campuses ranging from the Marine Institute and science to engineering and the humanities and social sciences. In addition to Dr. Snelgrove, the other key researchers are Dr. Matthew Rise from the Faculty of Science and Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee from Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

N.L. headquarters

Memorial will house Newfoundland and Labrador’s OFI headquarters, with Dalhousie serving as the administrative lead for the institute. Research funding will be distributed to reviewed proposals from all three institutions and international partners.

The OFI currently has temporary offices on the St. John’s campus but plans are already underway to expand its physical presence, including on the main floor of the new Core Science Facility. There will be additional space for an aquatics facility where researchers will conduct important work on salmon species, as well as space at the Ocean Sciences Centre in Logy Bay and the Marine Institute.

Dr. Mark Abrahams, dean, Faculty of Science, who serves on the OFI Executive Council, says it’s an exciting time for researchers.

“The Ocean Frontier Institutes in Halifax and St. John’s will facilitate international partnerships and promote the exchange of information between all disciplines,” he said.

“This is a joint project of Memorial, Dal and UPEI that includes eight international partners in Germany, France, Norway, Ireland and the United States. Four of these partners are in the top five ocean science institutions in the world.”

Research to have real impact

Glenn Blackwood, vice-president, Memorial University (Marine Institute), says research led by the OFI will have a real impact on the economy and environment.

“For more than five decades, the Marine Institute has had a proven track record of working in partnership with the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in this province, across the country and around the world,” he said.

“Together, we have addressed scientific, technical and socio-economic challenges in the fishery and generated opportunities for the growth and sustainability of these sectors. Our researchers are ready to seize this tremendous opportunity to further our strategic advantage as leaders in ocean innovation and to demonstrate our expertise on the global stage.”

Increase in grad students

In addition to the exciting research outcomes and collaborations, the OFI is anticipated to attract more graduate students to Memorial, which is welcome news to Dr. Aimée Surprenant, dean, School of Graduate Studies.

“The funding will allow researchers and scholars at Memorial to recruit and support an anticipated additional 44 post-doctoral fellows, 40 PhD and 63 master’s students,” Dr. Surprenant noted.

“This provides a tremendous opportunity to attract top talent and advance the contributions of graduate students and post-doctoral trainees to discovery and innovation across the spectrum of research on ocean frontiers ranging from sustainable small-scale fisheries to the social and cultural impact of the oceans,” Dr. Surprenant added.

More information about the OFI is available online.