Nova Scotia

Dalhousie University makes pitch for $99M for oceans institute

Halifax's Dalhousie University pitched to a non-committal science minister Friday a Ocean Frontier Institute that would cost $99 million in federal funding.

Anonymous donor pledges millions if Dalhousie University wins federal research grant

Science Minister Kirsty Duncan said she was happy to see collaboration between Atlantic Canadian universities to study the oceans. (CBC)

Dalhousie University pitched to Canada's science minister on Friday a Ocean Frontier Institute based in Halifax that would cost $99 million in federal funding.

The proposal is made more tantalizing because Dalhousie says it has been promised matching funds from an anonymous, private donor — but only if the school wins a federal competition for a Canada First Research Excellence Fund grant.

Federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, on the receiving end of the pitch, was non-committal.

"I am aware of the matching funds. I think it's exciting, but I can't comment because it is independent, arms length," Duncan said after touring Dalhousie's ocean sciences building.

Dalhousie, in partnership with the University of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador's Memorial University, is trying for a second time to win funding under the program.

"It's wonderful to see the collaboration that's taking place among these universities with ocean science," Duncan said.

Science Minister Kirsty Duncan had a tour Friday around Dalhousie University's oceans research labs. (Paul Withers/CBC)

New institute would be 'huge'

The Ocean Frontier Institute would bring together international scientists, students and industry to focus on issues such as climate change, reversing fish species collapses and evaluating the sustainability of aquaculture, the university said.

"This is a huge thing, if we are successful," said Sara Iverson, scientific director of Dalhousie's Ocean Tracking Network.

The network has pioneered marine animal tracking with small electronic transmitters, which are implanted on a wide range of species, such as salmon, tuna, whales, sharks, eels and seals. The worldwide network — dubbed the "internet of the ocean" — also deploys a wide array of mobile and stationary sensors.

Duncan said one of the highlights of the tour for her was listening to the calls of the world's largest animal, a blue whale as it cruised underwater off the coast of Nova Scotia. The sounds were captured by an unmanned glider riding on the ocean surface.

"It's purring," said Duncan as she listened on a headset.

Federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan said Friday she's excited about the oceans institute, but stressed the research grant is awarded independently. (CBC)

Local jobs, worldwide impact 

Iverson said she argues the benefits of the institute would be both local and global.

"In Atlantic Canada, it affects jobs, it affects fisheries, it affects sustaining and building those fisheries in a responsible way," she told CBC News.

"It affects the globe because the northwest Atlantic is one of the most dynamic ocean corridors on the planet — one of the richest fishing grounds in history — and we have the opportunity to reverse some of the changes that have happened, and some of the collapses that have happened."

The school would make room for the institute in one and a half unoccupied floors at the top of its new $41-million ocean sciences building, she said.

Projects that make the shortlist for the CFREF will be announced by July, with winners selected this fall.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.