Science in Action
From speaking out for species to conserving wild places, learn more about the pioneering ways WWF puts science into action in Canada and around the globe.
- Turning Down the Volume on Ocean Noise
- Marine Cumulative Impacts
- Smart Fishing
- Fisheries Financing
- Recovering Sharks
- Recovering Right Whales
- Conserving Eelgrass Habitat in the Skeena Estuary
- Engaging for Change Along the St. John River
- Mapping Canada’s Free-flowing Rivers
- Measuring Freshwater Health
- RACER: Identifying Arctic Resilience
- The Last Ice Area
- Smart Oceans Planning in the Beaufort Sea
- Responsible Hydroelectricity
- Putting Canada’s Renewable Energy on the Map
- The Living Planet Report
- Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade
- Adapting to Climate Change in Canada’s Pacific Region
- Skeena River Watershed Conservation Project
Turning Down the Volume on Ocean Noise
Canada’s Pacific North Coast is home to a wealth of marine mammals that rely on clicks, cries, grunts and coughs to forage for food, avoid predators, find mates and more. However, as activities like shipping and oil exploration increase, our once-quiet oceans are getting louder.
WWF is working with leading scientists to improve how we monitor noise and to identify areas where high levels of noise pollution overlap with important habitats for orca, humpback and fin whales. With this data, we can better predict how new development projects will affect wildlife.
We’ll use these innovative “noise footprints” as we work with government and industry leaders to reduce noise levels in critical whale habitats, establish quiet areas for marine species and embrace greener marine technology, such as quieter ships.
Marine Cumulative Impacts
What impact do fishing and shipping have on species and habitats in Canada’s Pacific waters? Now what happens if you add industrial development and climate change into the mix? Our research is creating a 360-degree view of how these impacts combine with each other to affect our marine environments.
Working with scientists from the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the University of California, Ocean Health Index, Ocean Ecology and the Pacific Salmon Foundation, WWF is compiling data to clearly illustrate the cumulative impacts on marine ecosystems in British Columbia.
It’s a process that involves huge amounts of lab and field research. But a better understanding of cumulative impacts will strengthen ecosystem-based marine planning and lead to stronger marine protection policies down the road.
The Grand Banks was once the most productive fishery on the planet. However, due to severe overfishing, the cod populations have plummeted, hurting both coastal communities and ocean ecosystems.
Working with partners like the Marine Institute at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, WWF has created ecosystem models to better predict the impact of fishing. We have commissioned reports on important topics like bycatch and coral, and we continue to work with our scientific advisors to set marine management goals guided by the best available science.
Using this information, we’re working with fisheries to adopt better practices, promote sustainable seafood and add less-destructive gear to their toolkits. We’ve got a long way to go, but this multi-pronged and collaborative approach is putting the Grand Banks on track to regain its former glory.
Getting fisheries to switch to smarter gear, reduce how much they catch and avoid fishing in sensitive habitats are essential for the industry’s long-term sustainability and financial security. But because sustainability measures often don’t come cheap, many fisheries can’t afford to implement them.
That’s where fisheries financing comes in. Essentially, the idea is to develop a specialized financial institution that provides loans to fisheries to cover the short-term costs of preserving natural capital in order to sustain a healthier, more productive ecosystem.
WWF and partners like the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and the Marine Institute at Newfoundland’s Memorial University are busy quantifying how the investment will pay off with healthier fish stocks – and, in turn, create profits for industry and returns for investors.
Most fishermen don’t set out to capture sharks. But when fishing nets and hooks stretch as much as 50 to 60 kilometres across open water, shark “bycatch” can be a significant problem.
WWF is partnering with fishermen as well as groups like the Canadian Shark Research Laboratory, Dalhousie University and other technical experts to address the issue. Using data collected from fishery observers, we’re tracking shark behaviour and identifying shark hot spots.
We’re also exploring innovative solutions, like teaming up with scientists and fishermen to explore the use of metals to keep sharks from getting caught. Because sharks are sensitive to electric fields, the idea is to attach metals on hooks or nets that, when immersed in salt water, interact and generate a warning shock when a potential bycatch victim gets too close.
Recovering Right Whales
With fewer than 500 right whales left in the world, this magnificent creature is precariously close to extinction. One of the biggest threats they face is getting entangled in fishing gear.
To address this issue, WWF is working with scientists to track right whale movement and identify high-risk areas. At the same time, we’re collaborating with different fishing sectors to find ways to improve their gear. For example, by using sensors attached to the ropes that link giant lobster traps together, we have been able to assess the danger the gear poses to right whales and start developing safer alternatives.
We’re seeing progress, with lobster fishermen along Nova Scotia’s south shore voluntarily taking steps to reduce entanglement. Our stack of data will also help us make a convincing case as we push for right whale protection in government action plans.
Conserving Eelgrass Habitat in the Skeena Estuary
Nicknamed the “meadows of the sea,” the eelgrass beds found in places like the Skeena River estuary provide a whole range of important ecosystem services. They serve as critical habitat for juvenile salmon, a well-stocked larder for migratory birds, and a significant carbon sink, among other things. But, as a result of climate change and human activities, eelgrass is in a state of global decline.
That’s why WWF is using beach surveys and working with researchers who use underwater cameras attached to boats to map the distribution and abundance of eelgrass in northern B.C. We’re also examining how climate change will affect this ecosystem in the years to come. Better information means better environmental impact assessments, better management planning, and greater odds of protecting these underwater “meadows.”
Engaging for Change Along the St. John River
All kinds of creatures – including humans – depend on healthy rivers. But a changing climate, farming, hydro-power generation and other human activities are altering waterways like the St. John River in profound ways.
That’s why experts from WWF and social scientists from Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre are engaging the people who live and work along the St. John River. The goal is to understand their different perspectives as we collectively work to build a common vision and develop an action plan for a healthy river.
At the same time, WWF has been working with aquatic scientists to develop a national assessment framework for river health based on indicators such as fish, invertebrates, flow volumes and water quality.
Together, these tools will empower rights holders and stakeholders — communities, industry, farmers, fishermen and cottagers — to steward the rivers, lakes and estuaries they depend on.
Mapping Canada’s Free-flowing Rivers
Canada’s free-flowing rivers serve as crucial habitats for fish, bears, birds and many other species. They also provide irreplaceable ecological services to the people that depend on them for drinking water, food, livelihoods and spiritual sustenance. However, forestry, dams and oil and gas development threaten these wild rivers.
To help protect the health of our nation’s fresh water, WWF is working with ecologists to analyze the value of free-flowing rivers and the ecological consequences of blocking them. We’re also using GIS data provided by Natural Resources Canada to create a first-of-its-kind map of undammed rivers across the country.
This information will help make the case for strong river protection in places like B.C.’s Great Bear region, home to some of the world’s last large free-flowing rivers.
Measuring Freshwater Health
Thanks to climate change, population increases, pollution and over-allocation, water scarcity is poised to become one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. That makes protecting the health of our freshwater ecosystems critically important.
But how do you measure how well the Great Lakes, B.C.’s Campbell River or Manitoba’s Oak Hammock Marshes are doing? Drawing on government and academic research, WWF has developed Canada’s first national freshwater health assessment framework. Now we’re using that framework to assess watersheds across the country.
By examining key metrics such as fish, insects, water quality and water volume, we’re able to reach credible and defendable conclusions about cumulative effects on freshwater health – conclusions that we can use to advocate for better protection and resource management policies.
RACER: Identifying Arctic Resilience
When it comes to the Arctic, the question is no longer will climate change have an impact but how can we adapt to the changes that are already happening. A WWF conference in 2009 concluded that the speed and scale at which climate change is affecting the Arctic is outpacing conservation efforts. New approaches are needed – and needed quickly.
Enter RACER: WWF’s Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience. Working with partners like McGill University, our experts combined the data of 20 global climate models and analyzed satellite imaging to identify and map key places throughout the Far North that are best equipped to withstand the advances of climate change.
This crucial tool is now helping WWF and others strategically target conservation efforts across the Arctic.
The Last Ice Area
Welcome to the Last Ice Area. Located along the coasts of Canada’s Arctic archipelago and Greenland, this is the region that scientists predict will keep its summer sea ice longer than any other. As temperatures warm, this habitat will become critical for ice-dependent species like polar bear, bowhead whales, and narwhal — and for communities that depend on these species.
Thanks to climate change models, we’ve been able to identify this critical habitat zone. Now we’re building on that work. We’re supporting surveys of polar bear populations, and building on our ice modeling work with McGill University, we are now projecting the location of future key habitats for ice-dependent species.
Now is our best opportunity to get the future of Arctic conservation right. Armed with this data, we can work with governments and local communities to put key measures in place to sustainably manage this vital area for people and nature.
Smart Oceans Planning in the Beaufort Sea
The Beaufort Sea is an ecological treasure in Canada’s Arctic, teeming with fish, birds and marine animals such as beluga and walrus. It’s also rich in oil and gas deposits and the source of livelihood for many groups of Inuit.
As industrial development expands across the region, it’s going to take good planning to ensure healthy and abundant wildlife. Through our work with the Beaufort Sea Partnership, we’re combining modern science with Inuit expertise and experience. It’s a place where high-tech GIS mapping software dovetails with traditional knowledge of polar bear dens to better inform management and planning decisions.
Done right, development can bring many benefits. Smart oceans planning maximizes those benefits while at the same time safeguards environmental integrity, creating a future that is both ecologically and economically sustainable.
In a country as river-rich as ours, hydroelectricity is a renewable energy source with incredible potential. But humans aren’t the only species that benefit from our rivers, and damming rivers can have major impacts on ecosystems.
To help navigate those tricky waters, WWF has teamed up with the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy. Together, we’re using the best available data to map out hydroelectric potential in rivers across Canada. From there, we can overlay conservation information – such as the number of bird and fish species that would be affected by a new development – to better understand the cumulative effects a dam would have.
As a result, we’ll be able to offer insight and guidance to communities, businesses and governments about the range of values at stake and trade-offs to weigh in determining where – and where not – to develop the renewable energy needed to offset fossil fuel use.
Putting Canada’s Renewable Energy on the Map
Oil and gas companies have mapped petroleum deposits across this country. But when it comes to renewable energy, we have yet to quantify and assess Canada’s huge wind, solar, wave, hydro, biomass and geothermal potential.
WWF’s Renewable Energy Assessment is looking to change that. We’re working with the University of Waterloo to map and quantify Canada’s renewable energy potential so we know not only what resources are out there but also how grid-accessible and economically viable they are.
This invaluable data will help Canada reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, make smarter energy decisions and ultimately build a future powered by renewable energy.
The Living Planet Report
Every two years, WWF works with the Zoological Society of London to compile an index that tracks more than 2,600 species, reflecting the state of global biodiversity. We also collaborate with the Global Footprint Network to calculate how much pressure we’re putting on our natural resources.
The results – published in our Living Planet Report – show global declines in biodiversity of roughly 30 per cent since 1970. What’s more, humans are using 50 per cent more resources each year than our planet can replenish, putting us into ecological debt.
Canadians are some of the biggest debtors. Our average footprint is 2.5 times the world average and up to 15 times the footprint of citizens in some of the world’s least developed nations – a picture both ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust.
Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade
Snakeskin boots, ivory brooches, shark fin soup, coral necklaces: illegal wildlife trade has many faces. So many, in fact, that identifying products from endangered species can be a real challenge for enforcement officers.
That’s where WWF’s TRAFFIC program comes in. We teamed up with morphology experts to develop a coral identification guide and train enforcement officials so they can quickly and accurately identify illegally traded coral. Guides to other endangered species are currently being developed.
And when would-be smugglers are caught, our evidence, together with DNA analysis from Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Forensic Research helps nail the conviction.
Adapting to Climate Change in Canada’s Pacific Region
We know in broad strokes what climate change means around the world. But what does it mean for smaller areas, such as the Skeena watershed? How will local climate shifts affect the soaring rainforest and salmon-filled streams that form the cornerstone of local economies and cultures?
WWF teamed up with forest industry experts, government scientists and consultants to come up with possible answers. Together we examined different climate scenarios and predicted how warmer, wetter weather will affect the region’s trees and streams. We also developed a protocol for monitoring sensitive salmon habitat — a key indicator of ecosystem health. Meanwhile, sociology experts at the University of British Columbia worked with local communities to identify the environmental resources they value most.
Forewarned is forearmed. Today, communities in this corner of B.C.’s Great Bear Region have better knowledge and more tools to steward the ecosystem that sustains them.
Skeena River Watershed Conservation Project
We’ve seen how warmer winters led to the pine beetle infestations that decimated forests in B.C.’s interior. So how can resource managers on B.C.’s coast avoid similar climate-fuelled disasters?
We worked with modelling experts to examine how shifts in temperature and rainfall patterns here in the Skeena River watershed will change the mix of tree species over the next 100 years and put pressure on salmon streams.
Next, we added in the impact of forestry, hydroelectric projects and mining ventures planned for this area. The resulting site-by-site scenarios make it clear: to protect the watersheds at the heart of the Great Bear Region, we need to strengthen forest management guidelines in British Columbia.