Port Saint John (PSJ) takes seriously its leadership position as an environmental steward of its jurisdictional waters on the Bay of Fundy.
Not only is this a responsibility outlined in the Canada Marine Act, but also “people see the port as the custodians of port waters,” says Capt. Chris Hall, PSJ’s Vice-President of Operations and Harbour Master.
Hall says there are overlapping jurisdictions, federal and provincial, when it comes to the harbour “but locally people see the port as the entity that is overall responsible for it, so I think it is just natural they see the port taking the lead or at least being involved in understanding and safeguarding our environment and mitigating the impact our shared activity may have on our waterways.”
While the federal government launched an Oceans Project Plan in 2016 which will help keep Canadian waters and coasts safe and clean for today’s use and for future generations, Port Saint John has an established history of partnering with organizations and academia to understand our marine environment that dates back nearly a decade.
The first of these early projects included a multi-year project with the Canadian Rivers Institute, said Hall. The project included other industry and government stakeholders and studied a multitude of things – flora and fauna of the river, shoreline habitat, river currents, harbour currents, sedimentation patterns, etc. “A significant amount of baseline data was gathered from the areas around and in the port,” Hall said.
“We (PSJ) had an interest in the harbor currents and sedimentation patterns and we learned a great deal from the research,” he said. The entire project was a major initiative “and we saw the value of working with academia in these initiatives. That project is now closed but we are still seeing benefits of that work to this day.” he added.
Over the past three or four years PSJ has partnered on other environmental initiatives “in some cases researchers have sought us out for initiatives and in others we looked to them for answers. These studies have benefited us and the organizations that carried out the research,” he said.
One such project was led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). It focused on tracking salmon smolt as they exited the harbour. The smolts make their way from northern parts of the province through the various river systems and go to sea through the Saint John Harbour. The port worked with DFO which installed two tracking receivers, one on either side of the harbor, and tracked tagged salmon smolt as they headed out to sea.
“Our understanding is that DFO saw more smolt leave than their original assumptions, so it improves their confidence level on survival ability of salmon so it was a good piece of data for them,” said Hall. “The port’s role in that project was to provide the secure physical locations so DFO could install the receivers in strategic locations on the terminals,” and the water where the tracking devices were installed and gathered data for several weeks.
Gaining an understanding of the biodiversity of the harbour and the state of potential pollutants on the harbour floor was an outcome a three-year research project led by scientists from the University of New Brunswick/ Canadian Rivers Institute. This initial baseline study, known as the Healthy Harbour Initiative, took place from 2012/2015, studied pollutants found in the sediment on the harbour floor to prepare for long-term monitoring, and developed a method to monitor the diversity and population size of various species found in the harbour.
The Healthy Harbour process and baseline will empower stakeholders to ensure the health and protection of all the species that call the Saint John Harbour home, and act as a reference for other ports in Canada and around the world. The initial study found that despite the harbour being an industrial site for more than two centuries, it remains a nursery for a wide variety of fish. The researchers found 26 varieties of fish, including five that had not previously been recorded.
Species richness and abundance were found to be slightly higher in un-dredged areas but statistical analyses showed no significant difference between the two types of sites, indicating that the harbour is dredged responsibly with no significant impact on the species that call it home.
Another initiative, Area Response Planning, was an early project under the Ocean Protection Plan which is vital to the port in the event of an on-water environmental emergency. Hall said PSJ assisted with the deployment of surface current meters “and we helped DFO connect with other port marine contractors and stakeholders who could also help them and offer resources required for data collection.”
PSJ is also aware of other environmental issues that require further study and analysis, one such issue being a knowledge gap in underwater noise levels in the waters around the port.
Eastern Charlotte Waterways (ECW), which has been studying underwater noise in the Passamaquoddy region of the Bay of Fundy with the goal of understanding marine mammal populations, partnered with the port to carry out a baseline study to understand the impact of ship propeller noise on marine mammals in the approaches to the port.
“We helped ECW select an appropriate site and provided boat and crew resources to assist with the deployment and maintenance of their underwater microphone” explained Hall.
Donald Killorn, Executive Director, Eastern Charlotte Waterways, located in Blacks Harbour, NB said the non-governmental environmental research centre received funding from Environment Canada in 2014/15 to purchase a collection of underwater noise monitoring equipment.
“We currently have five underwater noise recorders and at that time we deployed them at various locations in the outer Bay of Fundy. We approached the port in 2016 and asked if they would be willing to partner and allow us to deploy one of the recorders adjacent to the harbour. The reason we did was to really quantify the amount noise being produced in the underwater environment by industrial shipping,” Killorn said. “When it comes to industrial shipping we see a steady increase of background noise. It’s a pollutant that could change the environment,” he said.
Killorn said from the data collected and based on certain frequencies used in the testing to compare the noise the Saint John Harbour “performed extremely well, really impressive,” he said. “The data determined the port is not polluting surrounding environment with noise. It’s the only fair conclusion from data collected,” he added.
While these individual research efforts are extremely worthwhile initiatives, the collaborative work the Government of Canada is engaging with through the Ocean Protections Plan led by Transport Canada and with DFO and other organizations will bring broad-based focus on a program dealing with the coastal environment.
In the Ocean Protections Plan, the government is partnering with Indigenous and coastal communities to develop a world-leading marine safety system that meets the unique needs of Canada from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Canada is investing $1.5 billion over five years in long-needed coastal protections with an action plan to deliver results for the coming decade.
Rachel Long with DFO, who is based in St. Andrews and is the lead biologist on the project, said the project includes a baseline study of Saint John Harbour. The objective is to “better characterize the ecosystems so evidenced based decisions can be made in the future and to strengthen relationships with Indigenous nations, organizations and local stakeholder groups.”
She said the program basically is providing funding for interested groups and organizations so they can go out and “collect ecosystem data that will give a snapshot in time of various ecosystem components that each of these organizations deems important.”
Long said 2017 was a planning year for the program and this fiscal year will be the first year of a four-year data collection program.
“We are just in the process of submitting proposals now and we should have approval in the coming in coming months to start some data collection,” she said.