Canadian Rivers Institute, University of New Brunswick, Canada

Data Center Description
Throughout Canada, and around the world, there is a growing trend to develop an ecosystem approach to correcting environmental problems in aquatic systems (e.g., Thames, Danube and Rhine River restoration projects, and Canada’s Northern Rivers Basin Study). Atlantic Canada is home to a variety of river environments and ‘river issues’. No other place in Canada has such ready access to wild, unregulated river systems such as the Miramichi, Humber, Margaree and Restigouche Rivers. We also have heavily regulated (hydro-electric development) and stressed (multiple-contaminant issue) waterways such as the Saint John River, which also has international implications. We are close to two diverse estuarine and coastal environments, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy, each with its own unique stressors.

Human health problems associated with municipal water supplies and concerns about pesticide contamination are occurring with greater frequency in Canada. From an international perspective, many of the same environmental problems and resource management dilemmas faced by Canadians are also found in the USA and Europe. With many of the same species (e.g., Atlantic salmon, American eels) using rivers of both continents, there exists an opportunity for scientific, multi-national collaboration using large-scale, comparative approaches to tackle complex aquatic problems.

In the late 1990s, there were many ongoing research projects at UNB that were multidisciplinary in focus, including studies on mercury and metal contamination in fresh waters, cumulative impacts in the Saint John River catchment, forestry impacts on fish and wildlife, impacts of industrial effluents on freshwater and estuarine environments, and groundwater chemistry dynamics. The CRI was established to develop opportunities for carrying out large-scale, multidisciplinary research projects to enhance aquatic science and natural resource management. The idea was to have an institute for collaborative research, education and professional training where biologists, hydrologists, foresters, conservationists, geochemists, water quality engineers and other researchers would have a common theme to facilitate working collectively to solve complex environmental problems related to river ecosystems in Canada and internationally.

The original objectives of the CRI were to address research issues and to increase education and professional development opportunities. In terms of research, the aim of the CRI is to carry out multi-disciplinary basic and applied research focusing on river ecosystems, including their land-water linkages, for the purposes of protection, conservation and habitat restoration. The focus is on the biota of rivers and their valleys from headwaters to coastal marine environments, and the physical and chemical processes that influence ecosystem health. The emphasis of the CRI, as it develops, is to focus on multi-disciplinary approaches based on partnerships.

The CRI offers tremendous potential for teaching graduate students and training future professionals in the pure and applied scientific disciplines associated with river ecosystems. In Atlantic Canada, there is a great opportunity to develop educational curricula and research protocols related to the study of Canadian river environments because of our proximity to natural and altered basins. It is a goal of the CRI to develop courses from a uniquely Canadian perspective. Our developing courses and partnerships provide opportunity students to become familiar (via field courses/co-op experience) with diverse river-types across the country.

The CRI operates without core funding and seeks to develop collaborations and partnerships that are based on a mutual interest to increase the breadth and strength of studies on rivers. To that end, we have developed partnerships with federal and provincial partners, other universities, and discussions are underway or formalized with research institutes in the USA, France, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. Furthermore, we have associates working across Canada to collaborate on river studies.

In addition, the Fellows and Associates of the CRI are dedicated to the growth and development of the undergraduate and graduate programs of the university. Development of the CRI has occurred in concert with establishment and growth of the Environmental Biology major at UNB Saint John. In 2004, the CRI will lead the development of a bi-campus undergraduate course in Aquatic Biology to be video-conferenced between the two campuses. Enhancement of the CRI’s research, partnership and training expertise will continue to directly benefit students of UNB and our academic partners, for example, by providing students opportunities to participate in national and international field courses and training in partner laboratories.

We see high potential for continued growth and expansion through development of increased local, national and international partnerships. The CRI is open to people interested in actively collaborating at our study sites, standardizing methodologies with existing studies at other existing sites, and developing additional associations that increase the potential for education and research related to rivers. This Progress Report is designed to give a detailed overview of the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI), and the progress that we have accomplished since we were formed in December 2000.

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