As happens almost every week, I visited the waterfront last week. I usually don’t have any particular reason to go there; mostly I go just to enjoy the place, to look at the fishing boats, to see the comings and goings of the offshore supply and service vessels, and to check out any new visitors to the harbour.
I often end up out in the Outer Battery, again not for any particular reason, at least not that I am consciously aware of. Probably, like many, I am drawn there by some subconscious connection to the water, and I just like ships and boats. As I read somewhere once: “Boats … even the ugly ones are beautiful.”
On a recent visit to the Outer Battery, I ended up in Piercey’s twine shed. If you haven’t been, you should go. It was like a step back in time.
For me it was like stepping back into Frank Hill’s or Glen Penney’s or any of the numerous twine sheds that were the heart of the communities I grew up in. I have to go back, if for no other reason — like in the days when twine sheds were used for net- and trap-making — than to tell and listen to a few stories (and maybe lies) with Mr. Piercey. As the saying goes, “all fishermen are liars, except me and thee and sometimes I doubt thee.”
But back to my visit to the waterfront last week.
While there I noticed the Portuguese national research vessel Dom Carlos tied up. Of course, it is obvious why she would be in the neighbourhood.
I imagine she is doing fisheries research as part of the NAFO scientific program, on stocks on the Grand Banks. Hardly a week goes by, it seems, that there isn’t some type of research vessel visiting the harbour while working in the area or while in transit to some research project in adjacent waters.
Just recently, of course, the Celtic Explorer, the Irish research vessel, was in port while on charter, as
part of the collaborative fisheries research program between the
government of Newfoundland
and Labrador and Memorial University.
The various companies engaged in offshore oil and gas exploration have, on a regular basis, vessels under charter collecting scientific information on everything from the Earth’s subsea geology to the movement of icebergs.
Newfoundland and Labrador has over the past 30 or so years increasingly — and rightly, in my view — portrayed itself and
St. John’s specifically, as an oceans cluster, an oceans centre, an oceans technology leader — call it what you like.
From our marine simulation centres to our offshore oil platforms, we have, since the loss of the Ocean Ranger, built some of the finest oceanic research facilities and extraction structures in the world.
While activity in the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador has expanded, there has concurrently been increased activity in the waters north of us, up through Davis Strait and into Baffin Bay.
Our understanding of the depths, one could easily argue, has never been great. The spectre of climate change, its impact on everything from plankton blooms to potential changes to the great ocean currents like the North Atlantic Drift and Labrador Current, adds to that lack of understanding. Coupled with this, starting in the mid-’90s, there has been a gradual and continuous erosion of federal funding for fisheries science.
As I look at the comings and goings of the various research vessels in St. John’s harbour, I can’t help but think the time has come for Newfoundland and Labrador to have its own ocean sciences research vessel.
I am not talking about a fisheries research vessel, though it would do some of that. I am talking about a multi-purpose research platform, one of some capacity and stature, one that would provide Memorial University’s researchers and future researchers with an ability to go to sea, one that could and would do work under contract for the oil companies, one that could and would do work under contract for the federal government, one that could and would do work in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay.
What self-respecting ocean sciences centre does not have an ability to go to sea on its own vessel?
It is now time to figure out how it should happen; the days of “if” are behind us.
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.