The Ecology of Innovation
While land and sea are of primary environmental, recreational and economic concern to most Nova Scotians, what is often overlooked is the importance of what lies between. Acting as an invaluable liaison between terrestrial and coastal ecosystems, salt marshes make up a narrow band between the land and sea called the intertidal zone.
It is here that salt marshes provide habitat for many species of plants, fish, birds and other wildlife as well as functioning as a natural filter of organic waste, bacteria, excess nutrients and contaminants, all of which contribute to the health of both the natural and human world. In addition to the benefits salt marshes provide to wildlife, they also have an important role to play in climate change. With the increase of unstable weather conditions like those experienced in Atlantic Canada in 2010, salt marshes act as a natural barrier to powerful and destructive storm surges, protecting shorelines, homes, roads and infrastructure.
Of great concern to Tony Bowron, President of CB Wetlands and Environmental Specialists (CBWES Inc.), is the fact that over the past 400 years, more than 80% of salt marshes along the Bay of Fundy and 65% in Nova Scotia have been lost due to human activity. For many years the problem was largely ignored, the importance of the role of salt marshes dismissed and very little research into restoration opportunities conducted. Thanks to the CBWES team’s efforts, attitudes are changing and salt marshes are gaining priority attention at both the citizen and government level.
A leader in salt marsh restoration research, Dr. Danika van Proosdij, associate professor with the Department of Geography at Saint Mary’s University, has been working in partnership with CBWES for many years. Most recently, she has been testing the latest technology related to the use of low-altitude photography to monitor the conditions of salt marshes. Using a small, remote controlled helium aerostat or “blimp”, Dr. van Proosdij and her research team are not only able to take high-quality photographs of salt marshes from different heights and perspectives but the blimp provides the ability to collect this data efficiently and, more importantly, without causing further disturbance to the delicate eco-system.
“Dr. van Proosdij’s knowledge of the aerostat camera technology and how it can enhance salt marsh recovery projects has significant commercial benefit,” says Gina Funicelli, Director of the Industry Liaison Office (ILO) at Saint Mary’s. “The ability to take high quality pictures in areas of the marsh inaccessible by land is instrumental in helping industry develop more effective restoration plans.”
As a member of Springboard Atlantic, Saint Mary’s ILO has helped negotiate a number of successful collaborations with CBWES over the years, including applications for NSERC Industrial Post-graduate Scholarships, which allowed Dr. van Proosdij to hire two SMU students to help her test the aerostat on one of CBWES’ salt marsh restoration projects, and most recently, a pilot project via a Productivity and Innovation Voucher Fund Award by the Nova Scotia Department of Economic Development . The combined expertise of Dr. van Proosdij and Greg Baker from SMU’s Maritime Provinces Spatial Analysis Research Centre provided a valuable opportunity for CBWES to pilot and hopefully adopt this latest technology to improve their processes and become more competitive in the marketplace.
“Without the assistance of Saint Mary’s Industry Liaison Office, who not only made us aware of funding opportunities but also helped us navigate through the various steps involved with this type of collaboration, we may not have been as successful in getting this important project off the ground,” says CBWES President, Tony Bowron. “Having access to Dr. van Proosdij’s cutting edge research and technical knowledge has been key to our ability as a company to grow and prosper.”