Twenty UNBC students will visit Cassiar Cannery and the Skeena River estuary to gain a snapshot of plant communities in the area this summer. Contributed/Darwyn Coxson photo

Twenty UNBC students will visit Cassiar Cannery and the Skeena River estuary to gain a snapshot of plant communities in the area this summer. Contributed/Darwyn Coxson photo

Cassiar Cannery welcomes UNBC biology students for research visit

Thanks to funding from donor Pacific NorthWest LNG, 20 students will study area's rich diversity

Twenty University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) students enrolled in the Systemic Botany field camp from the Prince Rupert and Terrace campuses will be getting their feet wet in the field this summer.

With an $8,500 donation from Pacific NorthWest LNG (PNW LNG), the Undergraduate Experiential Service Learning (UESL) course will offer practical and applied learning through a four-day visit to Port Edward’s Cassiar Cannery – a coastal marsh area with a rich diversity of plants and habitat.

Made up of mostly third-year students who will graduate next year, the students will examine the marshes’ significance to the area and plant identification methods that botanists use.

“The students’ class experience in the Skeena River estuary salt marshes provides them with an opportunity to learn about an important regional ecosystem, one that ecologists would call a keystone ecosystem, [such as] an ecosystem that supports the integrity and function of a broader surrounding regional landscape, in this case the adjacent terrestrial and marine environments,” said Darwyn Coxson, UNBC ecosystem science and management professor last week.

“The end goal of the students’ work will be to obtain a snapshot of the state of current plant communities in the Skeena River salt marshes, against which future changes, be they from resource development, climate change and other factors, can be assessed.”

The 20 students will proceed through stages like hypothesis generation, data collection, synthesis of information and written and oral presentations in the scientific process during the trip. Another goal is to collect enough plant species samples so that they can later build a representative herbarium collection.

The opportunity was made possible through Coxson’s personal history with the cannery and the university’s interactions with PNW LNG stemming from discussions between the parties over the last five years of site visits by the company in the area and through PNW LNG open houses hosted on the North Coast.

“I first stayed at Cassiar Cannery, which offer accommodation in the heritage houses that they rent, about 10 years ago and was amazed at the apparent biodiversity in the adjacent Skeena River salt marshes. I have stayed there many times since then, gradually learning about the North Coast flora,” the professor said.

“The Cassiar Cannery site is probably one of the richest (in terms of biodiversity) salt marsh communities on the North Coast, so it is a logical choice for study. The infrastructure at Cassiar and North Pacific Canneries, including accommodation and buildings that can be used for teaching and labs, is an important supporting factor.”

Brian Clark, Pacific NorthWest LNG environmental studies advisor, said that the company is pleased to support the research undertaken by UNBC’s classes in the area – a place its own scientists have conducted research for the proposed LNG facility nearby on Lelu Island.

“Through hands-on learning and field studies that will further enhance the educational experience of each student, these studies will also provide more information about the soil, environmental conditions and plant composition of Inverness Channel,” Clark said.

The Northern View