Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association (Prince Edward Island)

Watershed conservation on Prince Edward Island (PEI): Protecting species at risk and educating young ecologists

Jennifer posed in front of a was of logs.

Science Horizons intern Jennifer Woods in the field on Prince Edward Island. Photo credit: Jennifer Woods.

Wildlife technician Jennifer Woods says that the problem-solving skills she learned from her internship at the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association (BBEMA) in Emerald, PEI, has helped her make better informed decisions in the field. “Watershed groups are a great place to gain practical experience and new skills about adapting to an ever-changing environment,” she says. “They give you the opportunity to see how climate change is directly impacting people and wildlife within the area.”

Now with another watershed association, Woods was hired in 2020 by BBEMA as an environmental projects coordinator. Her wages were subsidized by a Clean Foundation Science Horizons Youth Internship, financed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. It was her first full-time position after graduating with a diploma in Wildlife Conservation Technology from Holland College in Charlottetown, PEI.

BBEMA is a 30-year old conservation association that manages a watershed on the south shore of Prince Edward Island. Representing more than 6% of the island’s area, three-quarters of the watershed consists of land cleared for agriculture such as potato and dairy farming and encompasses the city of Summerside. There is also a strong aquaculture industry in the region that includes the largest oyster producing area in the province.

Jennifer in the field.

Science Horizons intern Jennifer Woods in the field on Prince Edward Island. Photo credit: Jennifer Woods.

The group is known for its species-at-risk conservation work. For example, staff members plant milkweed plants that serve as monarch butterfly waystations. Monarch caterpillars are collected, raised in a clean environment and released in the fall for their 8,000 km migration to Mexican highlands. Each butterfly is carefully tagged with a minute label to identify its origin.

It also works on improving conditions for salmon spawning through stream and river enhancement programs such as the installation of fish covers.

Through its education programs, BBEMA is helping create the next generation of young ecologists, an important goal according to Woods. “Increasingly, we are going to need these kinds of jobs and environmental careers because of the way our world is being impacted by climate change” she says.

Woods’ tasks were varied and included milkweed planting, water-monitoring, removal of invasive species, stream restoration, community engagement and education.

Geared towards students in middle school, BBEMA’s “Adopt a River” and “Adopt a Pond” programs give children a feeling of ownership for the sites they research, says Tracy Brown, the association’s Executive Director.

Students are provided with chemistry kits and waders when they visit the “adopted” sites. They collect specimens such as larval insects, snails and worms that they identify, quantify and analyze. In class they assess the site’s health and prepare restoration and enhancement proposals.

Jennifer wearing a hard hat working in the field.

Science Horizons intern Jennifer Woods in the field on Prince Edward Island. Photo credit: Jennifer Woods.

During the pandemic, programs were modified because students were not permitted to go on field trips. BBEMA received a TD Bank Friends of the Environment Foundation Grant to launch a new program that incorporates drones to shoot aerial footage of the stream sites which is then streamed to classrooms. Staff members collect the in-field samples and water quality measurements for students to analyze so they are still able to complete their lab work.

Available in English, French and Mi’kmaq, the programs are matched to school curriculums and include biology, mathematics and computer skills. “Some students are best at tactile learning so there is a real benefit for them with this ‘hands-on’ type of education,” says Brown.

Science Horizons funding allows BBEMA to create longer-term positions which lets the association pursue bigger projects, says Brown. This is particularly important in the areas of community outreach and research, she says.

“We want someone who is in the environmental field and who is outgoing because a lot of our work is community based,” she says. She also seeks employees who are self-directed and flexible. “A lot of our projects are weather-related, such as tree planting and restoration. If you wake up and it’s storming, you need to change course quickly.”

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