Freed to Catch Something

by a wandering wonderer


Master's field 


In the Canadian Arctic  

June 2015


I started the master's program in Quebec in September 2014. I had completed my end-of-study internship from my geology school in Beauvais at ISMER in Rimouski and my research supervisor had offered me a master's subject. I accepted, so I could stay in Quebec for a few more years. The first year consisted of theoretical courses on ocean chemistry, physics, geology and biology. These were very exciting courses. The level was quite high, I must say, and we had a lot of individual and team work. There was also the experimental part, during which we were lucky enough to go on board the university boat, the Coriolis 2. I won't go into too much detail, as you'll find documentation of these three days of incredible work later on this site. At the end of the first year of the Master's program, classes come to an end and students start collecting scientific data on the field to begin their Master's topics. My subject dealt with the transport of potentially nonindigenous dinoflagellate in the Canadian Arctic, following the discharge of ballast water by a domestic vessel. More detailed explanations are in order: 


Ballast water is transported aboard a vessel to ensure the security while in transit at sea. When vessels conduct loading and unloading operations, stress load must be counter-balanced by adding or emptying ballast water. These operations are usually conducted at ports but can be carried out in open sea. Prior to 1870, rocks and sand were used as ballast, but since the occurrence of steel-hulled vessels, water has been considered as the best material to load into ballast tanks. Water taken up in a given area, and subsequently discharged in worldwide ports, carries diverse assemblages of a variety of organisms that can be introduced into different habitats. Because of that, ballast water was identified as a leading pathway for the introduction of nonindigenous organisms in aquatic ecosystems, leading to important environmental issues. In 2000, new regulations took effect, requiring all ships entering Canadian waters to conduct ballast water exchange in the open ocean. Although domestic voyages are currently unregulated, most domestic vessels conduct voluntary offshore exchanges to prevent ice formation in tanks and to reduce risks of nonindigenous species introduction. Ballast water transported by domestic vessels has been identified as a major pathway for movement of marine and freshwater organisms, and thus a significant vector for the spread of nonindigenous and harmful species between ports.



I'm not going to copy and paste my entire thesis here, it's not the place, but if you'd like more information I'd be happy to tell you more.



I'll be then conduct surveys carried out aboard the bulk carrier M/V Arctic owned by the Fednav shipping company. The M/V Arctic navigates exclusively in Canadian waters between Quebec City and Deception Bay (Nunavik) in order to transport nickel ore concentrate extracted from Raglan Mine in northern Quebec (Nunavik) and supplies from Quebec City upon the return voyage. I'll be on board with another student from my graduating class, with whom I get along very well, and a collaborator, a researcher from Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Maurice Lamontagne Institute. On June 3, 2015, we boarded at Quebec City's commercial port... Here's a map to give you an idea of the route we'll be taking...


carte du quebec - trajet en bateau

June 03, 2015 - First day on board

First day aboard the MV-Arctic. My colleagues and I meet the captain and the officer for a short pre-departure debriefing to explain our arrival on board and to plan our days according to the activity of the sailors. Let me remind you that we're boarding a commercial ship, not a scientific vessel. There are specific safety rules to follow, and we can't move around outside freely without permission. The researcher we're with has a lot more experience in this kind of environment, which gives us a minimum of reassurance, especially for a first trip. The team on board seems satisfied and very open to our study project. I have a good feeling we're in for a pleasant trip and data collection. Once we've packed up our gear, we're free to sail on the St. Lawrence River.




We arrive at the entrance to the Saguenay fjord, marked by the sight of the Prince Shoal lighthouse, nicknamed La Toupie. The weather is magnificent, with a bit of wind rubbing against the river water... I take a few photos of the boat with all the vehicles that will be unloaded on arrival and destined for the Raglan mine. 




This first day on board is also marked by our first day of sampling. The boat has seven ballast tanks to starboard and seven to port. Initially, all ballast tanks are filled with fresh water (water from the port of Quebec), and during the voyage, the M/V Arctic will carry out voluntary exchanges in the Jacques-Cartier (Site 1) and Belle-Isle (Site 2) straits. We will therefore evaluate the efficacy of ballast water exchange to reduce the transport of potentially dinoflagellate NIS. Three ballast tanks were sampled: one Control tank, one tank for site 1 exchange and one tank for site 2 exchange. Prior to deballasting in Deception Bay Harbour, these three tanks were sampled in order to measure dinoflagellate densities that would be released in the Arctic port, but also to identify dinoflagellate species that would be potentially nonindigenous to the Deception Bay area.


The opening of each tank is sealed by a multitude of bolts (we had a lot of trouble removing them at first). Once open, we'll take several samples (physical, chemical and biological), which I'll document below, on the day of June 14, 2015.



June 04, 2015 - Sampling near Anticosti Island

Another day on the boat. We're in the Anticosti Strait. The weather is beautiful and we're getting ready to go sampling. Our scientific stock is located at the far end of the boat, in the warehouse where all kinds of equipment is stored (rope, chemicals, paints, mechanical tools, etc.).




The anchor chain



Lifeguard buoy



The long MV-Arctic




The warehouse



Antiscosti Island




Warehouse's door



The chemical chamber



Our scientific gear



Sampling days aren't really exhausting. They're time-consuming, and I find the work so interesting that I don't realize what I'm doing or where I am. I'm in Quebec, on a boat on the St. Lawrence River. I'm sampling ballast water for my master's project. So I have to be meticulous and take the time to do things right. I also work with my super-funny and charismatic colleague. In addition to our sampling, we have to carry out water filtrations (in particular to calculate chlorophyll concentration) for a PhD student who needs the data for his scientific project. The day ends with a beautiful sunset...



05 Juin 2015 - Icebergs en vue…


We were working in the warehouse when one of the seaman told us there was an iceberg near the ship. I  walk fast and then I see it. It the first time I saw an iceberg. It does not heavy. An emotion came to me. I'm really happy to see it. We are in the Belle-Isle Strait. We can see Labrador and New foundland coast.



June 06, 2015 - Quiet days 


The next few days are going to be rather leisurely, as we're entering the Labrador Sea and our study plan doesn't include this maritime zone. Our rhythm is therefore slower, even if we take the opportunity to start analyzing some CTD data, filling in excel spreadsheets and cleaning up our paper data. We also take the opportunity to get up a little later, enjoy breakfast and take advantage of the boat's leisure facilities, such as the games room, or just stroll around the deck and take photos. Let me come back to the food, which is... excellent. If I remember correctly, there are two chefs, one Cuban and one French canadian. The dishes were really tasty, and we enjoyed them at every meal. 




We're getting closer to the Arctic Circle, even if we'll never pass it, but we can feel that the luminosity is no longer the same and the rhythm of the day is very particular, especially in the evening. In fact, the last photo was taken around 11:00 pm from the wheelhouse, and it's still daylight. It's quite disturbing, and you can see that the sea is rough. We return to our rooms, touching the wall so as not to fall... 



June 07, 2015 - Same day as June 06...


The weather alternates between grey clouds and sunshine and blue skies. We're in the Labrador Sea, and all we can see is the horizon. It's thrilling and scary to see so much water. The day goes well, between taking photos and “resting” in front of a film in the evening. 




So tonight it's popcorn and I think we watched Inception... 



June 08, 2015 - Labrador Sea, icebergs and ice


The weather is cloudy and a little dark, but the sea is calm and full of ice fragments floating around the boat as it sails quietly towards its destination. 



June 09, 2015 - Labrador Sea and illuminated evening

Once again, we find ourselves on the Labrador Sea. It's calm. Only the sound of ice being broken by the icebreaker can be heard. Occasionally, footprints are visible on the ice floes, and we discover a life other than our own... The sun doesn't completely hide when it's time to set. It's a first experience for me to fall asleep when it's still a little light out... 



It's between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. and it's still light out, so everyone's asleep except us. It's extremely quiet... I love it!


June 10, 2015 - Hudson Strait and sunset


As we enter Hudson Strait, we can see Resolute Island in the distance, and the sunset is magnificent...



June 11, 2015 - Sunny weather on the sea


Today's weather is super fine and we're sailing on a sea of oil, no waves, just little bits of ice floating along with us. We're spending the day outside. I want to take a lot of photos and get right up to the front of the boat, and even climb onto the little platform at the front of the boat. I start to climb up and settle in. But I'm soon stopped by one of the sailors who tells me it's forbidden and too dangerous. In my opinion, I must have been seen from above, and the captain or whoever must have talked to the deckhand and told me to get out of here. What a shame...

As the day wore on, the landscape decided to put on a show, with the sun as actor and the ice as actress. I'll remember it, it's GRANDIOSE !!!!!




A seal's head emerges from the water...




The water is turquoise blue


You can still see the coastline



Blue color chart


We are floating


We are shown the way


June 12, 2015 - Sunset on the boat


How do you remember how to spell boat in french “bateau”? Does the first letter “a” have a hat on it (â)? My mother always told me, if you put a hat over the a, the boat will sink. Every time I write it down I think of this...
What I'll remember about this day, the sunset.



June 14, 2015 - Sampling day before arriving at Deception Bay


We soon arrive at our destination and have to do some sampling before the boat drops anchor in Deception Bay harbor. The weather is perfect, and our collaborator takes pictures to document our activities.



Sampling begins by opening the cover of the ballast tank and positioning this grey, open protective receptacle on top. Before each sampling, the depth of each tank is measured using a graduated rope. As seen in the photo, my colleague deploys the CTD probe to assess the water's physical and chemical properties (temperature, salinity, fluorescence and dissolved oxygen).




Next, I start preparing the equipment to sample the ballast water using a Niskin bottle. This is an oval-shaped tool with open ends. The bottle is attached to the rope stabilized with a weight. I then lower the bottle into the tank to the desired depth, releasing a small weight which slides down the rope and touch a trigger that closes both ends of the bottle and traps a volume of water. This water is then poured into a bucket, which is used mainly as washing water for the plankton nets. 




For dinoflagellates sampling, a 20-μm plankton net was used. The plankton net was slowly lowered in the ballast tank to 1-2 m above the tank bottom. After a couple of seconds, it was hauled back to the surface at a constant speed of 1 m.s-1. The net and its codend were thoroughly rinsed with surface or filtered water from the tank. The net was rinsed from the top-down to collect organisms that may have remained attached onto the mesh. The contents of the codend were poured onto a 20 μm mesh sieve, transferred to a 250 ml plastic bottle and preserved with 27 ml of 37 % formaldehyde solution. Sample bottles were sealed with electrical tape to prevent evaporation or spilling of content and stored away from light exposure.




The disturbing thing is that the organisms are not visible to the naked eye. It's as if you're cleaning a clean filter and transferring any kind of water into a bottle, when in fact it's full of micro-organisms. 




The sieve, an old boiler that has been cut to size and onto which a 20µm mesh filter has been fixed


I clean the sieve to transfer the organisms into the bottle using a funnel



In discussion


This sampling is repeated several times so as to have several samples for the statistical analyses that follow. My colleague needs also to sample with zooplancton. He and I are working on the same project, but not the same study target. I'm working on microplankton and he's working on zooplankton.




It was a great day in the sun with low temperatures, just the way I like them. The atmosphere was perfect. A little sunset through the porthole of the lounge.



June 15, 2015 - Arrival at Deception Bay


I wake up this morning, I open the curtains and see this. We're coming into the bay. We arrive at Deception Bay.




We arrive then at Deception Bay, our destination. You can feel the excitement among the sailors. They're getting ready to moor and unload the boat. We're about to make landfall after two weeks on board. The landscape is snow-covered, and the boat gradually reaches its anchorage. 



The various loads begin to be transferred to the port. We take the opportunity to do a final sampling of the harbour water, then head down to the ground. It gives me a twinge of sadness to think that this is it, the first trip is over, and this experience has been incredible. As we set foot on land, I feel really weird and I'm swaying as if my body were still on the boat.




Tonight, we'll sleep on the boat, and the next day we'll head for the mining complex, where we'll spend a day waiting for our flight back to Quebec City. 


June 16, 2015 - Departure for Katinniq, the mining complex 


Pierre-Luc, a french canadian working at the mine in the environment section, takes us to Katinniq, a huge complex built close to the mine to accommodate the workers. Around 800 people live here (not all at the same time, as there are shifts). On the way, we discover the landscapes of northern Quebec..




We arrive at reception, we have our room keys and discover the complex. It's huge. We never go outside and we wander through long corridors. The rooms are quite large. Then we're expected in the environment department for a short debriefing. To get there, you have to go up and down corridors and staircases, then pass through several rooms and corridors again before you get there. It's a real labyrinth. We've already lost our way. The exchange with the scientists is great, and I'm thinking that working here could be fun. We discuss our experience on board and then provide them with our samples and materials, which will be sent back to the research institute in Rimouski. Once the debriefing is over, we're free to explore the complex (dining room, games room, gym, etc.).



Our living space for 24h



June 17, 2015 - Departure for Quebec City 


The day of the flight is announced, we'll be leaving today. The workers' departures and arrivals are planned. However, the weather plays an important role, because if it's extremely windy, the plane can't take off. We take a shuttle to the mine airport and board the mining company's plane. The scientific trip comes to an end, but will continue in July. By then, our samples have arrived and I'm starting my analyses in the lab.