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Annual Report

Studying the Saint John Harbour

Researchers with the Canadian Rivers Institute and University of New Brunswick's Department of Biological Sciences in Saint John and Department of Biology in Fredericton spent three years examining the health of waters in the Saint John Harbour — long home to a bustling industrial port.

The city’s harbour at the intersection of the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River is one of Canada’s major seaports and home to significant shipping traffic. With a cluster of industry in the area and municipal water runoff, it has long attracted various sorts of pollution and is continually dredged to make room for tanker traffic moving in and out.

World-class researchers with the institute, where the mission is to make every river a healthy river, designed and undertook the study with a number of partners. The goal was to provide a baseline of the harbour’s health and to help develop a long-term environmental monitoring program.

Studying fish and invertebrates that live in or on the seafloor for the three-year span, the research team headed by Heather Hunt, Karen Kidd and Allen Curry found that the harbour was in better health than anticipated.

Contaminants are down and diversity is up

Despite Saint John Harbour being an industrial site for more than two centuries, the research found that it remains a nursery for a wide variety of fish — including five species never caught there before.

"There's an impressive diversity of fish and other animals there," says Dr. Curry, a science director at the Canadian Rivers Institute. “It’s a big, dynamic environment that has a very complex ecosystem. With the world’s largest tides flowing in and out twice a day, it all changes so fast.”

What’s more, sediment samples from some areas of the harbour contain a high diversity of aquatic life and 10 to 100 times less contaminants than previously recorded. The drop in levels of contaminants in the river and harbour is a testament to New Brunswickers’ change in attitude towards environmental management.

While the research continues, the data collected for the study will arm communities and policymakers with the information needed for ongoing monitoring of the harbour and to inform decisions on future development.