Folks wait in line at Tofino’s First Street dock on for a chance to step on board the Canadian Coast Guard research ship. Free interactive science tours were offered in Tofino and Ucluelet on Oct. 20 and 21. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

West Coasters line up for ocean science tours on Canadian Coast Guard ship

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be an explorer.”

Hundreds of locals and visitors to the West Coast climbed aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Vector research ship this weekend to take part in the 2018 PromoScience Expedition.

About 550 people turned out to Saturday’s ocean fair and interactive marine science tour in Tofino, while Sunday in Ucluelet welcomed a mixture of about 480 community members and tourists.

Built in 1967 as a science research vessel, the Vector cruises British Columbian waters at a relaxed speed of 10 knots.

“It’s one of the older ships and the busiest,” said captain Chris Ross, adding that it’s a pleasure to be working on the B.C. coast. “It’s one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.”


CCG research ship Vector departs the Ucluelet harbour on Oct. 21.

Darcey Nichol is the ship’s bosun, meaning he supervises all deck operations. Nichol also serves as a critical middleman between the scientists and crew.

“I love working with [the researchers]. There’s always something different. You always got to think outside the box and be ready for just about anything,” said Nichol, a 16-year sailor with the Canadian Coast Guard.

Chief scientist Peter Chandler reiterated.

“We have a very tight working relationship with the Coast Guard. Over the years, they’ve come to appreciate the science of what we are doing,” said Chandler, a physical oceanographer for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“If we ask them, you know we want to put this over the side, but we also want to get it back, a lot of it comes down to their seamanship that we are able to do that,” he said. “We have to adjust all the time ‘cause the sea is always changing and we don’t want to lose anything.”

It takes a certain personality to be part of the research team aboard the Vector, notes Chandler.

“It appeals to a character that likes to discover things. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an explorer. This is kind of like the modern day equivalent of exploration.”

Marine geologists Audrey Dallimore and Randy Enkin, above, shared facts from their research on sediment cores retrieved from Effingham Inlet. Their samples feature sediment that goes back thousands of years, and provides key climate information much like tree rings.

“Sediments help us to understand how the earth and the ocean and the atmosphere and eco-systems, how all of that operated before humans were on the planet,” said Dallimore, who is an associate professor in Royal Roads University’s School of Environment and Sustainability.

“We are interested in is climate change, sea level change, and earthquakes,” adds Enkin. “Studying the past is a way to know what to do in the future.”


Marine geologist Randy Enkin demonstrates the capabilities of the multi-sensor core logger.

Computer engineer Lucius Perreault uses an underwater microphone to record ocean acoustics and measure the speed of water from the surface right to the bottom.

“If you put it at 40 metres, you can actually hear storms. Like rain coming in and wind. The more you go down to the ocean floor, you can hear more earthquake stuff. You can always pick up whales and the noise pollution that’s happening, like tankers,” said Perreault.

Physical oceanographer Stephen Page explained the work his research team was doing with water sampling.

“We’ve been measuring nutrients. So things like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and silica,” said Page, adding that in the last two years they starting sampling for microplastics.

Chandler elaborated.

“We have about 80 set locations all throughout the Strait of Georgia. We will take an instrument and drop it down through the water column measures key oceanographic parameters: temperature, salinity, oxygen. If we do that in enough places within a sort period of time, we can get a three dimensional snap shot of what the environment looks like,” said Chandler.


Physical oceanographers Stephen Page,left, and Peter Chandler teach local kids Selah, Avia, and Ember Braun.

The last time the PromoScience Expedition popped up on the Coast was in 2010. The event was a joint project between Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Royal Roads University, the Ucluelet Aquarium, and the West Coast N.E.S.T.

“The weather was fabulous,” said Nicole Gerbrandt, education coordinator at the West Coast N.E.S.T. “It was such an excellent opportunity to have this research vessel come to our backyard. Fingers crossed we can bring it back again soon.”

Free transportation to the science fair was provided from Ahousaht, Opitsaht, Esowista, Ty-Histanis, and Hitacu.

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