Behind Hakai: Drew Jordison
A blog series highlighting the people who play an integral role behind the scenes to ensure the data keeps flowing and the Hakai Institute keeps running.
Understanding the dynamic environment of British Columbia’s coastal waters requires regular, continuous monitoring of oceanographic conditions. While technology allows the Hakai Institute to do some of this work remotely, people on boats are vital to collecting much of our oceanography data. Drew Jordison is part of the team out on the water each week, and keeps these surveys running on the ground, from scheduling survey crew and preparing equipment to managing samples and data after each trip into the field.
Started at Hakai
Quadra Island, BC
What do you do at the Hakai Institute?
I tell my friends I do science on boats! I’m a research technician for the oceanography program, and I recently started managing the Quadra Island oceanography field program. We do the same surveys either weekly or monthly, so there are fewer projects and more continual work. We collect data for a number of scientists who do different types of oceanography—chemical, biological, and physical oceanography. We’ll do CTD drops, which have a lot of sensors collecting a lot of data for a lot of people. We’ll collect water, which can be for chemical data, phytoplankton samples, and CO2 samples. And we also do plankton tows. I spend a lot of time in the field—I recently calculated that about 50 percent of my time is in the field or prepping or post-field.
What got you into this kind of work?
I went to school for it—that helps! But I went to school for it because I’d heard that marine biologists don’t get jobs, so I looked up other ocean work. As it turns out, Hakai shows that’s not true! But I ended up in oceanography and chemistry, and then I decided I wanted to be doing science outside, so being able to do what I have a background in and doing science outside is pretty much the dream.
With so much time in the field, do you have a favorite field location?
The site we go to every week is Q39, just between the southern tips of Quadra and Cortes [Islands], and it’s really nice to get to know a place like that. I’ve been going there every week, most weeks, for three and a half years. On the flip side, it’s really fun to have new survey sites. We go to four different inlets that are all stunning. And in Queen Charlotte Sound we go to the station that we’ve nicknamed Japan because it’s our farthest station out, and it’s just horizon—Calvert Island is way in the background. There’s no landmass between us and Japan.
What’s your favorite aspect of the surveys you do with Hakai?
I like diversity, so I like that many of us can fill many roles and that we get to cycle through tasks. And sometimes we do get to help other organizations and work on more projects—for example, [Hakai oceanographer] Jennifer Jackson is currently helping the University of Washington sample in Clayoquot Sound, which I got to do last year. That’s the theme here—I like that I can do a little bit of everything.
What’s really cool about going into the field so regularly is that we get to collect interesting data. We were on the water on December 2, 2020, very close to the Bute Inlet landslide. We didn’t know about the landslide yet, and we were driving through the trees in the water. Then a week later or less we got urgent instructions to go to Bute Inlet to get data after the landslide—we said, “We’re pretty sure we already did that!”
The fact that we had gone out regularly without knowing about the slide meant that we got data right away. When we knew about the slide and went out again, the signal of the slide had definitely reduced. We were able to get data that we wouldn’t otherwise. The later data was interesting too, but that first time, we definitely caught some interesting things. The turbidity was way higher, for example. And because we had gone so recently we could see how it was different the second week.
What’s one aspect of the job you could do without?
Well, we get some weather! We go out year-round, so beyond being out there in bad weather, it makes scheduling really difficult. Even if we’re just trying to do one survey in the week, we need everybody who’s going on that survey to be available on that day—but also maybe every other day, too. Weather definitely throws a wrench in the plans all the time, constantly. But especially in the winter.
You spend so much time in the field; is there a moment that sticks in your mind as the epitome of field experience with Hakai?
A lot of whales! We spend a lot of time on the water, both here [around Quadra] and [around] Calvert. This June in Rivers Inlet we saw orcas in Darby Channel, and about a second later saw grizzlies. So we were right between orcas and grizzlies, and that was amazing. We’re really lucky—we get to see a lot. During my first time in Burke Channel, we slowed down a little bit. The dolphins like to play in the bow wake, and we looked down and made really good eye contact with some dolphins. We get a lot of really cool moments, like a raft of more than a hundred sea otters. We’re really, really lucky.
*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.