Collecting coastal environmental data to support informed decision making

Collecting coastal environmental data to support informed decision making

COVE tenant, The Centre for Marine Applied Research (CMAR), coordinates a unique and extensive Coastal Monitoring Program throughout coastal Nova Scotia. CMAR collects data on important environmental parameters to support science-based development of coastal industry, guide government policy and management decisions, encourage environmental stewardship and ensure preparedness for climate change impacts.

Since taking over the program from the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (NSDFA) in 2017, CMAR has coordinated deployment and retrieval of 130 sensor strings (see figure below) that collect data for temperature, dissolved oxygen, and occasionally, salinity.

Typical Sensor String Array

Sensor strings are typically attached to the seafloor with an anchored acoustic release and suspended in the water column by a sub-surface buoy, with sensors attached at various depths. The acoustic release sensors are on loan from the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), and track migration patterns of keystone, commercially important, culturally valuable, and endangered species as an added benefit.

Once the sensor strings are deployed, they collect data over a designated time period, which is typically several months. Data is recorded at intervals between 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the sensor, which typically results in tens- to hundreds- of thousands of observations for a single deployment.  Researchers retrieve the data by triggering the acoustic release so the sensor string can float to the surface for data download. The string can be re-deployed at the same location or moved to another area of interest.

For the 2021 field season, CMAR is increasing the number of active sensor strings from 50 to 65 and will continue to engage coastal stakeholders to meet their needs. In addition to the continuous maintenance of coastal sensor strings, CMAR also collects coastal current and wave data using their Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) sensors. In addition, they have several Xeos Technologies and MarineLabs Wind-Wave buoys deployed to supplement the wave datasets.

Coastal Monitoring Program Dashboard

CMAR’s coastal monitoring program database currently boasts 16 million lines of data from 71 ADCP deployments, 45 wave datasets, and 130 string deployments, collected through collaborative efforts with many local organizations, companies, associations, and several other COVE tenants. The data from these sensor and buoy deployments are freely available to the public on several platforms (including the CMAR website, Nova Scotia Open Data Portal, and Canadian Integrated Ocean Observing System – CIOOS). These datasets have immense value, and to CMAR’s knowledge are unique in Canada, perhaps globally, for their high spatial and temporal resolution water column profiles and length of the time series. Partial funding for these research efforts has been obtained from Ocean Supercluster’s Vitality project.

To maintain high data standards, CMAR implements data management strategies to process, quality control (QC), and share the data following FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) data principles. CMAR Research Fellow, Dr. Danielle Dempsey, has developed a package in R (free, open-source statistical software) to facilitate compiling, formatting, and visualizing the vast quantity of data retrieved from aqua measures, HOBO, and Vemco VR2AR sensors. The free package can be viewed and installed from GitHub.

Sample Data Set from Birchy Head, Lunenburg County Deployment

CMAR’s coastal monitoring data products are crucial to Nova Scotia’s coastal industries, including providing insight for aquaculture decisions. Program data can eliminate undesirable aquaculture areas at the onset of site exploration, avoid upfront assessment costs, and help determine suitable culture locations based on the physiological requirements of the species being grown. Detailed environmental data will reduce risk and maximize production at existing sites. For example, CMAR is applying thermal growth models to determine stocking sizes that can be grown at specific locations to reach market size in less than a year, in order to avoid culture during seasonal periods of hazardously cold temperatures.

In addition to providing insight for aquaculture decisions, coastal monitoring data has relevance to climate change and fisheries management. CMAR’s Director, Dr. Gregor Reid, says, “Repeated deployments that produce extensive time series can be used to develop reference periods to document temperature rates of change, fluctuations, and extremes, which help track influences of climate change on Nova Scotia coastal systems.” These will be critical to inform species range shifts and habitat suitability in our changing climate.

Visit to learn more about research projects that are underway to support the development of coastal industries in the province

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