Gitga’at Oceanographic Initiative

Since its inception, the Bangarang project’s goal was to develop world-class research methods, customized to the Kitimat Fjord System, so that local residents can collect long-term oceanographic data. This year, as the Bangarang’s final season of fieldwork wrapped up, we made the big transfer. Here’s the article that just appeared in the latest Gitga’at Guardian newsletter.

Screenshot 2016-02-06 14.17.26

Next Steps for the Gitga’at Oceanographic Initiative

by Eric Keen

In late October the Guardian Watchmen boarded the newly re-powered Gitga’at Provider to begin training for a major new marine research project. Over several days, the GWs learned new methods in assessing the status of whales, seabirds, fish and plankton. These methods will be used by GWs on surveys that systematically cover the Gitga’at marine territory. The 10-15 day surveys are scheduled to occur every two months for many years to come.

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Deploying the CTD aboard the Gitga’at Provider

The training marked an important juncture in the Gitga’at Oceanographic Initiative (GOI), a GW effort to conduct long-term, world-class monitoring of their marine territory. Data from the GOI surveys will be a valuable tool in predicting changes to the marine environment (such as climate change) and defending the territory against future proposals for industrial development. GOI is an unprecedented research effort among coastal First Nations, and could serve as a model that inspires other nations to take high-quality marine monitoring into their own hands.

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Bangaranger and Gitga’at data analyst Kim-Ly Thompson provides tutorials on visual survey protocols atop the cabin of the Gitga’at Provider.

The GOI surveys will use world-class oceanographic equipment, including a “water column profiler” that samples many climate indicators from the sea surface down to the seafloor: water temperature, salinity, oxygen content, and algae pigments (which indicate how productive the waters are). A zooplankton net will be used to collect and count the large diversity of microscopic animals adrift in the water. There is also a scientific echosounder, a fishfinder that maps the schools of fish and plankton in the water as the Provider steams along. GWs will use a customized data entry app to record all of the sightings and samples they collect along the way.
The October training involved Eric Keen, a graduate student from Scripps Oceanography in USA. Eric spent the last 3 summers in Gitga’at waters, collecting these kinds of data in partnership with the GWs and Whale Point. In this time he developed the methods that are now being used for the Provider surveys.
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Mary Reese carefully marks measurements on her custom handheld seabird rangefinder.

Summer 2015 was Keen’s third and final season of fieldwork in Gitga’at waters. He hopes that the last three years of effort will result in deepened understanding and better protection of the Gitga’at territory’s marine ecosystem. Eric wishes to thank everyone in the Gitga’at community for their friendliness and support. He consider it an immense privilege to work within and on behalf of Gitga’at waters.
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The portable “Gitga’at Data Box” Eric built, to house data entry tablet with custom Gitga’at software, serial-to-USB converter, echosounder, inverters, fuse blocks, etc., so that data entry technology is transferrable between Gitga’at vessels.

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