Aboard the MV Polar Prince, 25-year-old Leanne Rich said she was in awe while watching machines suck up water for environmental DNA testing.
“I was really inspired by how they’ve been working [with] the ecosystems,” Rich said, describing the complex equipment.
Rich is one of 24 young adults who boarded the research vessel as part of the three-week Uinipeku Ocean Expedition, facilitated by Innu Nation.
The expedition was broken up in three parts, starting near Sheshatshiu, then going between Sheshatshiu to Natuashish, and ending closer to Natuashish. Innu Nation welcomed eight young people aboard each week.
Rich said she has been grieving the loss of her mother and wanted to see if she was brave enough to go. She said being aboard the boat for her week was positive.
“I’d be really happy to be a scientist someday,” she said.
Watch Students on Ice talk about week three of the Innu Nation expedition:
Innu Nation has been monitoring water for decades and funds frequent trips with their scientists on smaller boats.
In early 2023, the Indigenous government decided to commission the Polar Prince for a July expedition and partnered with Students on Ice, a youth sustainability foundation, so community members could come along.
Innu Nation’s scientific lead on marine monitoring said having those people come aboard was heartwarming.
“It’s been very valuable to communities and to those youth who have participated,” said Michael Hannaford. “I can’t say enough about that aspect of it. I think that’s more valuable than any sample that we could take.”
Youth were able to see Innu Nation continue their research of collecting community knowledge about Innu sites, using remote operated vehicles to look under the water, doing drone surveys of water and coastline and taking samples.
The Canadian Hydrographic Service was also mapping the seafloor at night, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was taking water samples, a dive team was going out each day, and the Students on Ice team took youth out in Zodiac boats to see birds and islands.
“If the youth take away one thing from the expedition, I hope that people can see maybe some pathways forward with those related to being on a ship or expedition themselves,” Hannaford said.
Hannaford said he hopes to see more of expeditions like this in Innu Nation’s future. He said it’s key to have this community-driven research.
“We just want to keep growing the work and creating more opportunities for people to join in and follow and participate,” he said.
Hannaford said it’s too early to know what the research may tell Innu Nation about the waters and coast, but there’s a number of samples and a lot of data that they’ll be going through this upcoming winter.