Exploring Nova Scotia coasts by kayak

Guest Contribution by Michelle Lloyd.

Heading off

Heading off

I spent most summers exploring the oceans- from tidepools and rocky shores to mud flats and sandy beaches. I flipped rocks over searching for critters beneath – crabs, worms, snails- whatever. I felt lucky with each new discovery. I splashed in tidepools and waded through seaweeds never knowing what I would find.

It wasn’t until I went to University that I had the opportunity to accompany a marine scientist to the ocean.  Ocean exploration allowed me to delve deeper into the unknown. I felt like a kid again – the wonder, the awe, the excitement. I wanted to share that feeling with others, and with that ‘Seacology by Kayak’ was born.

Seacology by Kayak is a joint collaboration between the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network, Dalhousie University, and Ecology Action Centre. We teamed up with a local kayaking company to host a weekly series of guided sea kayak tours with a marine and coastal ecology theme. This summer, a total of 18 of local “Seacologists” came to share their science and knowledge with the public, and they did it all from kayaks. Paddlers explored how the marine ecosystem off Nova Scotia’s coast works, what the major species are that ‘run’ it, and how it has changed over time due to the many stressors, such as climate change, natural resource extraction (e.g. food, oil and gas, minerals), habitat modification (e.g. coastal development, marinas, dredging) and invasive species.

Listening intently

Paddlers listening intently as Dr Boris Worm describes rockweed life cycles

Scientists talked about changes to our marine and coastal ecosystems, such as warming ocean temperatures, declining extent and thickness of sea ice, ocean acidification due to carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean, marine oxygen depletion, changes to the food web, and commercial fish declines- despite recovery efforts. We also discussed the effects of these changes on our coastal ecosystems and communities.

Paddlers played in tidepools, waded through seaweed, swam with the minnows, and searched under seaweeds for hidden creatures between the tides. They learned about hermit crabs, green crabs, lobsters, sand dollars, bryozoans, tunicates, mussels, rockweed, knotted wrack, periwinkles, Irish moss, dead-man fingers, squid, double crested cormorant, great blue heron, lions mane jellyfish, pink cotton wool, sea lettuce, great black-backed gull, purple claw weed, sugar kelp, tube worms, and all sorts of invasive species.

Near "hermit crab island"

Examining a specimen- found near “hermit crab island”

Many paddlers had an opportunity to become scientists! We towed nets for plankton, such as larvae ‘the babies of the ocean’, copepods ‘fish and whale food’, and microscopic seaweeds ‘responsible for bioluminescence and red tides’.  We measured  the ocean’s temperature, saltiness and murkiness. We also learned about the bigger picture, such as what is happening on the Scotian shelf and the open Atlantic, along with climate change, ocean acidification, fisheries, coastal development and more.

Paddling through "the weeds"

Paddling through “the weeds”

There was even a “You Can Eat That?” session led by Dr. Stephanie Boudreau where paddlers learned about the different species they could harvest and eat!  We harvested seaweeds, collected snails and mussels, and then we feasted!  The ocean provides many edible treats from larger fish like swordfish and tuna, to mackerel, herring and shad, to invertebrates like mussels, clams, squid, sea urchins, shrimps and even gooseneck barnacles. There also many tasty seaweeds, including Nori, Irish moss, dulse, rockweed, kombu, sugar kelp, sea lettuce, oarweed, giant kelp and bull kelp.

Dr. Boris Worm led two Seacology outings, and brought a wider perspective to some of the changes we’re seeing in our local waters and small communities. One of the topics he touched on is the impact that international demands for our local seafood has on our coastal ecosystem, For example, a seemingly insatiable market for sea urchins in Asia has depleted local supplies and now demands urchins from as far away as the Nova Scotia’s coast. When important organisms like urchins are removed from delicate ecosystems in huge numbers to satisfy faraway markets, the local ecosystem suffers a cascading effect. Worm stressed the need for fisheries management to be biologically based rather than driven by foreign market demands.

Heading in

Heading in

The best part of Seacology by Kayak was the way provided a forum for the public to learn about the science being conducted in our province, but also lots about the different ecosystems and species that make up Nova Scotia’s coast, along with their connection to global market forces. People came far and wide to join us this summer to learn- with excitement and even child-like abandonment.

Michelle Lloyd is the Outreach Coordinator for the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network.Seacology by Kayak a partnership among Canadian Healthy Oceans Network, Ecology Action Centre, Dalhousie University, and East Coast Outfitters to bring people, nature and science together.

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