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Weather conditions on Quadra and Clavert Island

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Hakai Partners with the Smithsonian Institution - Hakai Institute

Hakai Partners with the Smithsonian Institution

The Hakai Institute is the first Canadian partner in an emerging global network of coastal science research institutes.

The timing was perfect. After the first six years of Hakai Institute operations, infrastructure was built, scientific capacity grown, and local core programs were established. So we were ready when the prestigious Smithsonian Institution contacted us in 2015 about a potential partnership.

The Hakai Institute is the first Canadian partner in the Smithsonian-led Marine Global Earth Observatory—or MarineGEO—which is focused on monitoring the health of coastal ecosystems globally. This partnership represents the natural next phase for the Hakai Institute, coordinating our research with like-minded organizations both locally and around the world.

The Hakai-MarineGEO partnership will focus on four nearshore habitats: kelp forests, seagrass meadows, soft muddy sediments, and rocky intertidal. Photo by Grant Callegari

For Hakai Institute co-founder and director Eric Peterson, the Smithsonian Institution was one of the original inspirations for Hakai. “When we were first contemplating the Hakai Institute, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama was held up as the exemplar. So in the summer of 2015, when MarineGEO director Emmett Duffy approached me to gauge our interest in joining MarineGEO, I jumped at the chance. To be mentioned in the same sentence as the Smithsonian Institution is a great honor,” said Peterson.

Scientists need solid data from coasts around the world to establish baselines and understand what’s changing in these vital ecosystems over time. The partnership with MarineGEO means that information from Hakai’s existing marine research initiatives will be shared with other MarineGEO sites all over the world, helping build a global monitoring data set.

In August 2016, Duffy and MarineGEO field biologist Ross Whippo visited the Calvert Island Field Station where they observed many of Hakai’s scientific activities, including habitat surveys and mapping with aerial drones. Through a meeting with Mike Reid from the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department they also learned firsthand how the Hakai Institute research is used by the neighboring First Nations and incorporated into their research programs.

MarineGEO director Emmett Duffy measures the seagrass meadow right in front of the Calvert Island Field Station. Photo by Margot Hessing-Lewis

“Half the people on Earth live within 60 miles of the ocean and all of us depend in some way on marine life, much of it threatened by rapid environmental change,” said Duffy. “How serious is the problem and what can we do about it? In most places we don’t know because there’s no systematic tracking of coastal marine biodiversity. To really answer the questions we need a global view. That’s what MarineGEO is about, and Hakai is emerging as a fantastic partner in the effort—not only as a leader in coastal research in BC but with a lot to offer the larger network in data management, drone applications, and traditional knowledge.”

The goal of MarineGEO is to provide policymakers with the science to support innovative solutions and advance management and protection of our oceans.

“In many ways this is a natural partnership,” said Hakai research scientist Margot Hessing-Lewis, who helps lead collaborative efforts between the Hakai Institute and MarineGEO. “Hakai is uniquely situated to fill in some major knowledge gaps on the BC coast.”

When Duffy was on Calvert Island, he got a personal sense of the goings on at Hakai as he donned his wetsuit and waded into the water.

“Remote sensing and technology have revolutionized marine science, but there’s still no substitute for getting in the water to learn what’s going on,” said Duffy.

Dipping his hand into the ocean up to his shoulder, Duffy planted an orange flag in the mud to demarcate the boundary of the seagrass meadow that grows right beside the Hakai Institute dock—one data point in a global effort to understand our changing oceans.