Spying out science

Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

by Anthony Schirru

Parks Canada’s resource conservation team is using cutting edge technology to study the ancient landscape of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA).

Ecosystems Geomatics Technician, Anthony Schirru, flies the park’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the islands of the Lake Superior NMCA, and sends the underwater rover through the crystal clear waters of Lake Superior in an effort to gather scientific data that will help address the many challenges involved in the management of Canada’s largest freshwater marine conservation area.

The waters and islands of the Lake Superior NMCA offer opportunities to experience raw and untouched beauty, but also create many challenges for managing natural resources; challenges that the Resource Conservation team are using creativity and technical innovation to tackle head-on.

Home to an abundant number of fish species, mammals, birds, rare disjunct arctic plant communities, cultural artifacts and extraordinary geologic features, the Lake Superior NMCA is an area that requires special protection and management to ensure its ecological diversity remains intact for future generations to understand and appreciate.

To gain a better practical understanding of the Lake Superior NMCA, Resource Conservation staff employs cutting edge technology, providing new ways of viewing little-known areas of the almost 11,000 km2 marine protected area.

The Resource Conservation team at the Lake Superior NMCA has recently acquired an underwater rover and are quite literally ready to dive in to explore the aquatic environment and record their findings. The team is planning on using the rover for several purposes, all of which will provide more in-depth data into what is happening under the surface of the largest of the Great Lakes. Some of the uses the team has discussed are mapping and monitoring fish spawning areas, emergence of aquatic invasive plants and animals, underwater cultural resources, underwater geologic formations and much more.

Along with the underwater rover, the team will be employing UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones) to help map and generate high resolution imagery of the NMCA. Once gathered, the aerial imagery will be used for developing an extensive base map of the near-shore waters and islands of the NMCA. By using Geomatics and UAV tools the Resource Conservation team can create 3D models of specific areas, map shoals and reefs, monitor aquatic and terrestrial invasive plants, classify habitat, monitor wildlife, identify safe harbours, and map remote island access locations, just to name a few potential uses.

This new technology gives the Resource Conservation team the opportunity to showcase the natural diversity of the Lake Superior NMCA, and collect important scientific data, while honouring our commitment to protect and sustain this incredible part of Lake Superior for future generations.

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