The Government of Canada is investing in research to better inform the protection of our oceans, lakes, rivers, and waterways. Bernadette Jordan—the minister of fisheries, oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard—announced $2,891,371 over four years in funding for contaminants research. This funding supports nine research projects addressing the biological effects of contaminants on aquatic species.

“Canada is well-positioned to be a world leader in the emerging blue economy,” said Minister Jordan. “We are home to the world’s longest coastline, three oceans, and thousands of lakes.”

“It is therefore critical that we study and understand all threats, including contaminants, to our aquatic ecosystems to ensure that these bodies of water can continue to sustain the countless resources and livelihoods they generate,” added Jordan. “Today’s investments will strengthen Canada’s blue economy and ensure all our decisions continue to be grounded in science and sustainability.”

Projects on the west coast

Minister Jordan announced $1,185,144 in funding for research that will take place on the west coast.

Ocean Wise received funding for two separate research projects. One project will benefit from $284,326 in funding over three years to study the level of contaminants of concern in Southern Resident killer whales and evaluate related health impacts. Ocean Wise also received $274,822 in funding over three years to study the toxicity of microplastics in the Strait of Georgia.

“Ocean Wise thanks Fisheries and Oceans Canada for their support of two important Ocean Wise conservation research projects over the coming three years,” said Lasse Gustavsson, president and CEO of Ocean Wise. “Ocean Wise’s project studying microplastics in the Salish Sea will be led by Dr. Anna Posacka, in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, and will examine the thresholds for negative impacts of microplastic textile fibres in the food web. Dr. Marie Noel will lead our investigation into the health effects of priority chemical contaminants in B.C.’s three killer whale population.”

In addition to this, Simon Fraser University received $625,996 in funding over two years to study several factors that affect how contaminants related to oil spills impact Pacific marine species including oysters, sea urchins, and herring. This project is funded under the Oceans Protection Plan’s Fate, Behaviour, and Effects Initiative. The initiative aims to better understand oil spill behaviour so we can better inform the protection of our waterways against its biological effects.

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“This funding will help us understand and predict the effects and risks of oil spills on marine organisms by evaluating the toxicity of whole oil and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACS),” said Dr. Chris Kennedy, professor of aquatic toxicology at Simon Fraser University.

“It will examine PAC toxicity on a variety of marine organisms and evaluate the effects of marine diesel, crude oil, and fresh diluted bitumen on the Pacific oyster,” added Kennedy. “The data will aid in the development of oil spill models, risk assessment, oil spill responses, and oil spill monitoring plans for managing marine organisms in the event of potential spills in this and other coastal areas of Canada.”

Projects in Central Canada

Minister Jordan also announced $658,026 in funding for contaminants research in Central Canada.

The University of Toronto received $217,870 over three years to study the ecological impacts of microplastics on fish and their associated food web. With Canadians throwing away over 3 million tonnes of plastic waste every year and only 9 per cent being recycled, this study will help to understand how the microplastics pollution affects aquatic ecosystems.

“Future policies to mitigate microplastics should be informed by science,” said Dr. Chelsea Rochman, assistant professor of ecology at the University of Toronto (U of T) and head of operations for the U of T Trash Team. “The support we received from Fisheries and Oceans Canada is critical to enable our ecosystem-based experiments measuring the fate and ecological effects of microplastics. Our work will inform effect thresholds for future risk assessments to protect freshwater fish and their surrounding aquatic ecosystems.”

The IISD Experimental Lakes Area received $220,736 over three years to characterize the effects of exposure to an antipsychotic pharmaceutical on several aquatic species by undertaking a series of experiments that use ecosystem-based enclosures.

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“Antidepressants are a lifeline for millions of people Canada, and as COVID-19 measures have taken their toll on populations, we are seeing prescriptions for those drugs growing,” said Jose Luis Rodriguez Gil, research associate at the IISD Experimental Lakes Area. “But we need to know more about what happens when these drugs flush through humans into our freshwater lakes, and the impact they may have on our environment.”

“That is why we are spearheading a ground-breaking new project into venlafaxine (a commonly-prescribed antidepressant) at IISD Experimental Lakes Area—the world’s freshwater laboratory—the only place in the world where researchers can experiment long-term on whole lakes to discover the impact of threats and pollutants on whole freshwater systems, from the water chemistry to fish populations,” added Rodriguez Gil.

The University of Waterloo received $219,420 over three years to support a research project that will examine how anti-depressants move in the environment and impact fish.

“I would like to thank the Government of Canada for its support in addressing the biological effects of contaminants on aquatic organisms and specifically by providing research funding to the University of Waterloo,” said Charmaine Dean, vice president, research and international, at the University of Waterloo.

“It is critical for us to examine how pharmaceuticals move in the environment, in particular how they bioaccumulate in fish and cause changes in key biological processes,” added Dean. “We are very pleased to have this important project led by Professor Mark Servos, a Canada Research Chair in Water Quality Protection, who has extensive knowledge in the areas of ecotoxicology and integrated water resources management.”

Projects in Quebec

As part of the announcement, two projects in Quebec also received funding for research on microplastics.

McGill University received $217,733 over three years to study how small micro- and nanoplastics travel into and within the bodies of aquatic organisms, how to detect them and how this may impact their health.

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“I would like to thank the Government of Canada for this important investment in McGill’s research on the effects of micro- and nano-plastic contaminants,” said Martha Crago, vice principal of research and innovation at McGill University. “The outcomes of this project will aid in informing science-based resource management decisions for the preservation and continued productivity of Canada’s aquatic resources.”

The Université du Québec à Rimouski received $230,468 over four years to examine the biological effects of microplastics on sea scallops.

Project in Atlantic Canada

The Huntsman Marine Science Centre received $600,000 in research funding for a project will study how contaminants related to oil spills impact Atlantic marine species including lobster, sea urchins, and cod. This project is funded under the Oceans Protection Plan’s Fate, Behaviour, and Effects Initiative, which aims to better understand oil spill behaviour so we can better inform the protection of our waterways against its biological effects.

“The Huntsman Marine Science Centre is very pleased to use our extensive toxicology expertise and experience culturing commercially important aquatic species to contribute to the understanding of biological effects associated with oil spills on all three coasts of Canada,” said Dr. Benjamin de Jourdan, research scientist (toxicology) at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre. “This specific project will explore the toxicological effects of individual components of oil and improve our knowledge of how environmental factors, like temperature and UV exposure, can modify toxicity.”

“Our government is committed to investing in research to better protect our aquatic ecosystems,” added Dominic Leblanc, president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and minister of intergovernmental affairs. “In St. Andrews New Brunswick this funding will allow The Huntsman Marine Science Centre to assess the impact of exposure time, temperature and photo-oxidation on the toxicity of individual polycyclic aromatic compounds in several Atlantic marine species. This research will benefit Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”

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