When not saving stricken mariners or reacting to disasters at sea, the Canadian Coast Guard puts its resources to good use, supporting scientists around Vancouver Island conducting vital research into B.C.’s coastal ecosystem.
As well as the traditional core activities, the service is facilitating 40 science programs around B.C.’s coast, this year.
Last week saw the CCGS Vector operate as a floating base for eight Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) scientists monitoring abalone numbers and health. The schedule is fast paced, with the Coast Guard watch officers working from midnight to noon and noon to midnight, while the scientists do eight scuba dives a day.
“It creates an environment on board where you’re always learning,” says CCGS Vector Chief Officer Brent Seamone. “I’m impressed with their [the scientists] work ethic and they’re good to work with.”
Although the vessel contains some of the comforts of home, such as a full time chef and a small gym, space is at a premium and is probably not for the claustrophobic. Crew members are cooped up with scientists for between two and 28 days, the ship operating 24/7 and people sleeping in shifts. Multiple trips are sometimes scheduled, such as the abalone dive team who are due back for three more weeks in the fall.
Often the ships host scientists working on more than one project at a time and have been utilized by a whole host of organizations, such as those related to ocean health, fishery stock assessment, hydrographic services, climate change and geology.
Coast Guard ships and personnel are always available to carry out their core duties should an emergency arise. There have been instances where ships have responded to a call and been diverted, with the scientists pitching in to assist Coast Guard personnel.
Under normal circumstances other vessels are available for search and rescue duties, while ships focusing on scientific research, like the Vector, operate almost everywhere along the B.C. coastline, including delving into remote coastal inlets, and up to several hundred miles offshore.
Currently four CCGS vessels are hosting scientists; the John P. Tully, Vector, Otter Bay and Neocaligus. The Sir John Franklin is soon to be inducted and will support fisheries research.
The largest ship, CCGS John P. Tully supports offshore science, including one of the longest standing ocean data collections in the world – Ocean Station Papa.
The CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier is an example of why scientists value the reach of the Coast Guard, as it is currently supporting a well established program along the Alaskan Panhandle, and in the Canadian Arctic, with local and international scientists on an annual Arctic trip.
For the scientists, who better to have watching your back than the Coast Guard? Seaton says although they are well equipped, safety always come first.
“It can get pretty hairy. Sometimes if the weather gets too bad, we have to slow the program down.”