Where once Newfoundlanders and Labradorians saw prosperity when they looked to the waters off the province’s coasts, most saw only hardship in the wake of the cod moratorium.
Over time, fewer and fewer people looked to the ocean as their place of work, and the next generation that earned a living off the water never came to be.
But as science and technology has evolved, governments and their agencies, academic institutions and private companies turned their attention back to the water, and in recent years the province has established a record of being a world leader in the field.
In order to ensure that reputation is not only maintained but added to, the focus now is on encouraging the high school students of today to consider careers in ocean science and technology.
The Oceans Learning Partnership Inc. (OLP), a multi-stakeholder initiative established five years ago with precisely that mandate, is at the vanguard of that movement and is receiving over $450,000 in non-repayable government loans to support an educational pilot project in three regions around the province.
“It’s enabling us to extend our excitement about opportunities in the oceans world to even more students in a really meaningful way,” says Leslie Grattan, OLP’s interim chair.
“I think people see more about the ocean now, so we can harness that general knowledge within the school system to get kids to understand just what opportunities there are for learning and careers and professions.”
Maria G. Giovannini, OLP’s executive director and lead on its digital oceans project, says “part of the challenge here has been to facilitate all those partnerships and linkages and the collaboration and the kind of content and programming that’s locally relevant, that’s about the world we live in.
“That’s one of the things this project is doing, engaging them in that way and that level of awareness.”
The funds — $141,098 through Ottawa’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and a further $313,428 from the provincial government’s departments of advanced education, skills and labour and tourism, culture, industry and innovation — will be used to administer three six-week internship and mentorship programs that will place 18 high school students — six from each region — with one of nine ocean sector companies that have signed on.
In the Bay of Islands region on the province’s west coast, students from Corner Brook Regional High will work with the Qalipu First Nation to assist in aquatic and ocean management research and get involved with the Bay of Islands Yacht Club, which has been plagued by zebra mussels, an invasive species.
On the province’s south coast, students from King Academy and St. Anne’s school will have an immersive experience in the region’s fast-growing aquaculture industry with companies including Northern Harvest Sea Farms and Cold Ocean Salmon in St. Alban’s, the Marine Institute Regional Aquaculture Centre, Hermitage’s Marine Harvest Canada and the Miawpukek First Nation.
In the east, the focus is on ocean technology and research. Carbonear Collegiate students will be embedded with Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises, which specializes in shipbuilding and repair, and Clarenville High students will work with SubC Imaging.
But these are not your average internship where a single student shows up at a company only to be tasked with menial chores like filing or photocopying. While the specific programs, rolling out this summer, are still being built, students in the OLP programs, working in teams of two, will be actively involved in the work taking place.
“These young people will be learning about it, but also learning to do the field work and that will include not only the techniques in field work with our various participating scientists who will advise, but also the technologies, all the scientific instruments that are being used,” says Giovannini.
A further two students are being tasked with telling the stories of their peers’ experience in the field through digital and traditional media.
All 20 students will be paid throughout their internship.
The mentorship component involves linking the students with the host companies online once the program has ended.
When the inaugural program concludes, the material and documentation will be disseminated to students throughout the province in an effort to get more of them thinking about ocean-related careers and the next year’s program.
“We want to gather that so starting in the fall we can do little pieces and segments that can be made available to kids around the province,” says Giovannini.