Harbour seal monitoring in the saint john harbour

The population of Harbour Seals, Phoca vitulina, in Atlantic Canada is currently listed as unknown and little is known about the behaviour, food habitats and distributions in the area. We have begun collecting population data on Harbour Seals in the Saint John Harbour and its nearshore and estuarine environments. Bi-monthly surveys will be conducted at low tide and harbour seals that haul out on rocks will be counted. This data collected will be used to determine the population numbers of harbour seals in the harbour and to establish their distribution patterns throughout our area.

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If you happen to see seals in the Saint John Harbour or along the St. John River let us know by filling out the form below.


Saint John Harbour Environmental Monitoring

ACAP Saint John has historically sampled water quality all over Saint John, and fish communities in Marsh Creek and Courtenay Bay. In 2018 this work has expanded into a wide monitoring program running from 2018 until 2021. It will involve monitoring water quality at 28 nearshore sites, sediment contaminants at 15 sites, and a community monitoring program (for fish and crustaceans) at 11 sites, all between Red Head and Lorneville.

Fishing was done first in October 2018 and will be conducted monthly from May - October 2019 - 2021. We fish using two separate methods at each site, including fyke nets and seine nets. In October of 2018 we collected over 3000 individual animals in our seine net among these sites, the most abundant species being Atlantic Silverside. In the fyke nets we caught 245 individuals, with the most abundant species being Atlantic Tomcod. This new community monitoring program in the Harbour will create a baseline for all of these sites, and lend important information to any researchers or developers planning on doing work in these areas in future years.

Water quality will be measured bi-weekly until 2021 from the months of May to October. The parameters being measured include temperature, salinity, pH, turbidity, fecal coliform, phosphates, and ammonia. The contaminant sampling is three times yearly and we will measure polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediments. PAHs, contaminants that are highly linked to burning fossil fuels, can be harmful to the quality of aquatic life beyond certain concentrations. Monitoring the levels of these endpoints in water and sediments will, again, help us develop an appropriate baseline to refer to for future developments or research projects in the Saint John region.

Click here to read about the findings of previous research and monitoring conducted in the Saint John Harbour from 2011 - 2016 (UNB/Saint John Harbour Environmental Monitoring Partnership).


Microplastics in the Saint John Harbour

A recently growing global concern for marine wildlife is surrounding small plastics (microplastics, which are less than 5 mm in size) that enter the ocean from human sources. They can come from runoff, our clothing, microbeads in hygiene products, fishing equipment, beach littering, etc. These microplastics are often confused with food and are ingested by animals which can lead to detrimental health issues or death of marine life caused by blockages or toxic contaminants leeching off the plastics. There is little to no information on microplastics in water coming through the Saint John Harbour. With funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada- Atlantic Ecosystems Initiative and partnering with COINAtlantic, we will be trawling for microplastics in surface water at sites in the inner and outer Saint John Harbour. This important project will give insight into the issue plastic pollution is in this region and open doors for further research into this emerging field.

Marsh Creek Water Quality Monitoring

The objective of the Marsh Creek Water Quality Monitoring project in the past was to retrieve and record as much data as possible prior to the ceasing of the raw sewage outfalls. Following the cessation of raw sewage deposition in late 2014, the objectives of the project continued, with a mind toward evaluating the recovery the water quality since this historic Harbour Cleanup milestone. Since the completion of Harbour Cleanup, the Water Quality Monitoring project has expanded into various other watersheds within the Greater Saint John area.

Water samples are repeatedly collected and tested at a number of sites over the summer field season. These tests are performed by summer students from the Chemical Technology programme at the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC). Seven different tests are performed including testing pH and dissolved oxygen in the field, and testing total fecal coliform count, orthophosphates and total suspended solids in the labratory at NBCC. 

Overall, the water quality monitoring conducted in the 2017 field season throughout the Greater Saint John area, revealed that the urban and suburban watersheds have many potential impacts that have resulted in diminished water quality in some areas; however, they are still capable of, and do, support aquatic life. The most notable impact to these urban watersheds is stormwater runoff, the potential for sanitary sewer overflows being discharged into these watercourses, and riparian degradation. All of the watersheds monitored also have areas of exemplary water quality that meet the habitat and water quality needs of aquatic species. The variance between these areas indicates that these watersheds have the potential to flourish as productive habitats and that demonstrable improvements can be made to restore the degraded areas and improve stormwater runoff and filtration.

The Marsh Creek watershed is a prime example of how reducing anthropogenic impacts into a
watercourse can lead to substantial improvements in water quality. Since the completion of
Harbour Cleanup in 2014, the Marsh Creek watershed has shown improvements year after year in
terms of water quality. The dissolved oxygen concentrations have increased at all the monitoring
sites this year and surpassed the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guideline
recommendation concentration of 6.5 mg/L on average at all the sites. Prior to the cessation of
discharging sewage into this watercourse many of the impacted sites were so low in dissolved
oxygen that it would not support any aquatic life; therefore, the improvement of this watercourse
to a point of surpassing this guideline is a great achievement. Additionally, the fecal coliform
concentration continues to decrease; however, lift station overflows still likely remain an issue within
this watershed and as such only two sites were below the Health Canada guideline of an average
of 200 CFU/100 mL. The concentrations found this year continue to represent a large reduction
of fecal coliform contamination when compared to pre-Harbour Cleanup data, which has allowed
the watercourse to slowly recover and improve its overall water quality. The improvements seen in
the Marsh Creek watershed demonstrate that the efforts and costs behind Harbour Cleanup
established a pioneering example of how a community can improve the management of urban
waterways to enhance aquatic habitats and the health of its citizens.


Hazen Creek Fish Passage Improvements

The alterations to Hazen Creek’s stream channels resulted in a degradation of the ecological integrity of the watershed, due in large part to the introduction of numerous culverts that created vertical drops that were impassable to the upstream movement of fish. ACAP Saint John’s watershed management plan for Hazen Creek identified these ‘hanging culverts’ as priority items for remediation. In 2012, the City of Saint John initiated five fish habitat compensation projects in Hazen Creek (that were proposed by ACAP in 2010) including the replacement [elimination] of two hanging culverts, the back flooding of one culvert via rock weirs, 30 m of bank stabilisation, and the insertion of a wing deflector to reduce stream braiding. The scale and scope of these projects, which included the use of large rock, rip-rap and log materials, necessitated the use of heavy equipment and in some cases the removal of existing riparian vegetation. The loss of vegetation and associated potential for erosion was compensated for through Hydroseeding, straw mulch and brush mats.

See some of the results of this amazing restoration project in the video below!