Trail blazing is in their DNA

By the time you finish reading this sentence you will have taken another breath, gifted to you by Earth’s ocean. Critical to life on the planet, the ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen, and has absorbed a third of human-produced carbon dioxide from the air you breathe; but it’s under tremendous stress, a potentially catastrophic decline brought on by climate change and the planet’s growing population.

For Wendy Watson-Wright, CEO of the Ocean Frontier Institute, which opened its doors in Atlantic Canada in 2016 with an investment of $227 million, there’s been a growing wave of global recognition that things must change. She’s the institute’s first CEO and a trail blazing champion of the deep, having served in both the federal government and at the United Nations.

“The whole energy around the ocean globally and in Canada has burgeoned in the last couple of years, but it’s taken a long time,” she says and points out that the Canadian government has been supportive with initiatives like the Ocean Protection Program, the Atlantic Fisheries Fund and the Ocean Supercluster.

Sitting on OFI’s predominantly female executive team is Scientific Director, Anya Waite. She says, “The changes are accelerating so quickly that we’re barely catching up with where we need to be in terms of trying to mitigate climate change and impacts we have on diversity and other life on earth. If we tackle climate change, fossil fuels and carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, we will have won. But getting there is a massive act,” She hopes these efforts will not be distracted by other global issues.  

Stefanie Colombo plunges into the depths of the ocean, an immense and quiet blue world; as she descends, the only audible sound comes from her rhythmic breathing, transformed into streams of shimmering bubbles by her diving apparatus. A  divemaster, Colombo is Canada Research Chair in Aquaculture Nutrition and Assistant  Professor at Dalhousie University. To her the ocean “feels like a second home”, a home she has sought to protect since her first time snorkeling at age six with her parents in Hawaii.

She leads one leg of a five part scientific study where researchers, funded in part by OFI and NSERC, are working with industry partners to improve practices and examine fish health and resiliency.

Colombo’s expertise lies in aquaculture nutrition and production, making sure that fish grown and produced for human consumption are healthy, grow fast and produce quality, nutritious foods, without depleting the ocean. She believes there is a tremendous need to improve sustainability and conserve the ocean’s food web by reducing the amount of wild fish used in feeds for carnivorous species like salmon. Her particular interest is in fatty acids, like omega-3s, for optimal fish health and human consumption.  

Read the full article in Bio Lab's June 2019 edition ...