A specialized team of diving researchers from Ocean Wise is wrapping up a trip to the High Arctic this week, diving at underwater sites near Resolute, Nunavut that have never been explored before, and documenting the marine life that inhabits them.
The research is possible because of an innovative partnership between Ocean Wise and One Ocean Expeditions (OOE), a leading expeditions cruise specialist. Last month, the two organizations announced a five-year agreement with the intent of expanding their joint education and research programs around the world on select OOE voyages. OOE provides over 120 days per year on its three vessels to select scientific organizations, such as Ocean Wise, for scientific research.
“Having our research dive team on board the expedition vessel Akademik Ioffe gives us access to underwater ecosystems that have never been visited underwater before,” said Eric Solomon, director of Arctic Programs for Ocean Wise. “Throughout the 10-day expedition, Ocean Wise divers have been conducting biodiversity surveys, collecting specimens for the Barcode of Life DNA barcoding effort for Arctic marine species, and measuring ocean temperature.”
The Ocean Wise Arctic research dive team is unique in Canada. With specialized expertise and equipment, like regulators designed to remain ice-free at very low temperatures, the Ocean Wise team can dive in water as cold as -1.5 degrees Celsius. Since 2015, the team has been conducting nearshore biodiversity surveys near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, monitoring changes in the abundance of key taxonomic groups of fish, invertebrates and algae. This year marks the first that such surveys will be conducted at previously unexplored sites between Resolute Bay and Grise Fjord in the High Arctic.
On Thursday, Eric Solomon and other Ocean Wise staff will board a second OOE ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. For this expedition, Solomon and the team will focus on collecting water samples along the way for later analysis for the presence of microplastics. With the entire region experiencing record-low monthly sea ice conditions and Arctic air temperatures rising at double the rate of the global temperature increase, these ongoing studies will help scientists understand the impact of changes on the Arctic ecosystem, wildlife, and communities. While on board, researchers share research with expedition guests, explaining the purpose of their studies and enlisting their help in citizen science projects.
“The Arctic makes up 40 per cent of Canada’s landmass and about 70 per cent of its shorelines. It’s home to almost 100,000 Canadians and some of the most iconic wildlife in the country,” says Solomon.
The Vancouver Aquarium — now an Ocean Wise initiative — first explored the Arctic 45 years ago, and in recent years, the organization has increased its commitment to protect the region, through research, collaboration, engagement, and education. As well as biodiversity studies and microplastics sampling, Ocean Wise areas of study include:
Marine Mammal Science: Ocean Wise scientists conduct research on beluga, seal and narwhal populations, contaminants, distribution, communication and acoustics.
Community-based Research: Through a program called Ikaarvik, Ocean Wise works with Inuit youth and researchers from a variety of agencies and universities on projects ranging from river health and invasive species to microplastics and shipping impacts.
Sea Ice Loss: Sea ice is becoming less predictable and more dangerous for travel. Led by researchers at Memorial University, and in partnership with Ikaarvik, Inuit youth and Elders, SmartICE, measures, maps and monitors sea ice conditions to make travel safer. SmartICE scientists are also provided with data to better predict and forecast changing sea ice conditions.