Engaging with Science | Jun 14, 2016 | By Sarah Warrack, Bachelor of Science (Ecology and Environmental Biology) student at the University of Manitoba

An Educational Course at IISD-ELA Made Me Realize my Research Passion

As an undergraduate student, wanting to pursue a Master’s degree, I thought being immersed in field research would help answer the question, “What kind of research are you interested in?” After seeing the unique whole-lake ecosystem research that takes place at IISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA), and learning about monitoring techniques, I finally have an answer to the question: fish.

The NSERC CREATE H2O program was underway quickly with our first group assignment set. We were to design a whole-lake study simulating an oil spill for IISD-ELA. After Dr. Chris Metcalfe’s lecture on IISD-ELA’s Nanosilver project, we headed out to Lake 222. We quickly learned how much thought, planning and hard work goes into a whole-lake study.

We had the opportunity to learn firsthand the various techniques used to monitor lakes, using passive samplers for water; grab samplers for sediments; seine netting, angling and trap netting for fish; and kick netting and emergence traps for zooplankton.

Did anyone want to volunteer to catch northern pike? I put on my hip waders and raised my hand to show that I was up for the challenge. I caught a northern pike, which was then weighed, measured and scanned for a tag to help understand the fish population of the lake. We learned how to use a seine net, catching yellow perch and the occasional tadpole. Perhaps it was at this moment that my love for fish was born.

There was so much else to discover too. We learned about fish population dynamics, and how “fish aging” can tell us about the fish population’s growth, life span, mortality, age at sexual maturity and more. The population size in the lake is small, so, when possible, non-lethal aging methods are employed such as using fin clipping and scales. IISD-ELA’s fish crew also showed us how to take samples from the fish and how they are processed.

A day was spent at Eagle Lake First Nation, at Migisi Sahgaigan School, where we met with elders and discussed their concerns for their lake’s health. We also worked with students, demonstrating sampling and monitoring techniques for fish, water and invertebrates.

The NSERC CREATE H2O course was instrumental in helping me figure out my future research plans. Working with so many talented and knowledgeable individuals at such a special place was an amazing opportunity. The Environmental Effects Monitoring course is offered through the University of Manitoba and Trent University. For additional details, please email Dr. Mark Hanson at Mark.Hanson@umanitoba.ca.

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