More than 80 researchers and scientists gathered in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador last week for the Ocean Frontier Institute’s (OFI) Researchers’ Conference.
With a theme of Putting Research into Action, the event was an opportunity to explore activities funded under the Safe and Sustainable Development of the Ocean Frontier – a Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) program. Led by Dalhousie University and administered by OFI, the program was launched in 2016 in partnership with Memorial University and the University of Prince Edward Island.
"Your work is already helping to inform policy, engage communities and shape industry efforts towards a sustainable future, but we are still only at the beginning," said Dr. Neil Bose, president and vice-chancellor of Memorial in his opening remarks to OFI researchers. Noting the diversity of scientific and research disciplines that were represented at the conference, Dr. Bose stressed the increasing urgency and importance of working together on ocean science.
Since 2016, the $94 million research initiative has established an important legacy, supporting 24 Large Research Projects, seven Opportunities Fund projects, and 127 Seed Fund projects.
Updates delivered from research projects
Over the two days of the conference, delegates delivered presentations on the outputs of their large research projects, covering critical areas such as:
- ocean mapping
- Indigenous engagement
- health and green infrastructure
- offshore freshwater sources
- the ocean’s biological carbon pump system
- sustainable ocean stewardship practices.
The presentations were complemented by moderated breakout discussions that went further in-depth on common challenges and opportunities of working with communities, industry, and government policy makers.
Sean Leet, managing director and chief executive officer of World Energy GH2 and board chair at Horizon Maritime delivered a guest presentation on sustainable energy.
"OFI has made remarkable progress and is carrying out valuable work in support of ocean health, Indigenous inclusion and the ocean economy," said Leet. "I was pleased to share the origin story and progress of World Energy GH2’s Project Nujio’qonik, and to make a call-to-action for industry, and institutions such as OFI, to be bold and ambitious as we work toward hitting net-zero targets and slowing climate change."
Need for engagement a key takeaway
Researchers highlighted enhanced engagement with local communities from the early stages of each project as key to creating local ownership and acceptance. Participants emphasized the need for better community level communication strategies.
Participants identified working with industry as a valuable way to access data and expertise not normally available, but the need for clarity in timelines, priorities, and the ownership of intellectual property outputs with this group is critical to ensure successful partnerships.
All groups highlighted the complexity of establishing a strong connection between science and policymakers, and identified the difficulty of navigating between federal, provincial, and local structures as a major challenge. Similar to working with communities, they identified an essential need to connect early with policymakers and identify clear lines of communication.
In all cases, balancing the timelines, expectations and priorities of these distinct groups requires further focus. OFI was challenged to provide greater support to help facilitate communications, training, and collaboration across all these areas.
Promoting ocean science
Ocean School’s Jacques Gautreau, director of business development, distribution, and production at the National Film Board of Canada and Ocean School’s Executive Director presented new Ocean School activities, a key highlight of the week.
Ocean School, an OFI program, has produced an impressive collection of educational material to help promote ocean science, inspire, and encourage students of all ages, and engage communities across Canada and internationally. Ocean School is collaborating with several of the OFI Large Research Projects to develop new material to mobilize the research project outcomes and co-create new educational material based on the work.
Gautreau highlighted the impact that public education efforts can have on future generations and our ocean, A Love Letter to the Ocean.
Looking to the future
The conference closed with summary remarks from Dr. Waite and Dr. Paul Snelgrove, associate scientific director at OFI and a professor at Memorial University, who praised the breadth and depth of the research projects highlighted throughout the conference.
In her keynote remarks, Dr. Anya Waite, OFI’s scientific director and chief executive officer, updated participants on OFI’s evolving structure. She explained how the institution has grown in the years following the CFREF funding, and how the new Transforming Climate Action CFREF program will add to the capabilities and impact of OFI-supported research. "Together we are creating the foundation for a global alliance on ocean research," said Dr. Waite.
"We will increasingly will look outward as these projects finish up, and harness the wisdom we have learned about over the last few days to ensure our engagement is even more impactful in 2024 and beyond," said Dr. Paul Snelgrove. "I look forward to continuing that journey with all of you."