From Québec to the deep blue sea

- Tara Sharpe

If humans could breathe water, Ma&e#180;va Gauthier would spend weeks in the sea. Instead, the master's graduate (earth and ocean sciences) must content herself with the robotic reach of an underwater vehicle.

Gauthier was born in the land-locked Laurentians and has no intention now of moving away from this coast. When she was eight, her family spent five months on a 30-foot sailboat in the Caribbean. That trip "opened my passion for the sea. Since then, I've been fascinated by the ocean."

Gauthier moved permanently to Victoria in 2007 and lived on a float home at Fisherman's Wharf. Early on, Gauthier worked for NEPTUNE Canada as a co-op student. She is also a member of the Explorers Club and also sails, surfs and scuba dives. "I got involved in a few things, so my master's took a while. I wanted a full experience and to fully enjoy this wave of opportunity."

Under the supervision of Dr. S. Kim Juniper, now the associate director of science at NEPTUNE Canada, Gauthier studied the impact of bottom trawling on deep-sea ecosystems off Bamfield. "It is basically dragging a net on the seafloor for kilometres at a time, and the width of these nets can be up to 70 metres, which can rip up many species from their homes," she says. "It's important to know its impact if we still want to have fish on our plates in the future and keep jobs for fishers too."

In February 2009, she was invited on the International Polar Year Antarctic University Expedition. She went polar twice that year, the second time to the Arctic.

Future plans include science outreach. She published an article last fall in the UVic student newspaper The Martlet, about Wally, the deep-sea crawler robot: http://bit.ly/LGu09u. And a month before graduating, she flew to New Brunswick for a science communications workshop.

She also finds filmmaking "a revelation" and has produced two short films: "Aquaponics" (http://bit.ly/LDPV5d), which won third place in the TD Go Green Challenge, and "Before the Ice Melts" (http://bit.ly/MWdTdD), also a winner at UVic's 7th annual Sunscreen Student Film Festival.

This summer, her work with a coastal mapping company will take her to Kaktovik in the Arctic of Alaska to document traditional knowledge and coordinate youth interviews with elders. "This is a cultural twist to our aerial imagery program," she adds.

She's also taken a live webcast camera below the surface for a local high school class, and says she enjoys "being up close to the species. I'm not a very speedy diver. I like to dig and look and take my time."

You could almost imagine Gauthier as one of the mythological Selkies-human on land but with a soul claimed by the sea. With a camera in hand, she is now the eyes of the ocean too.

Photos

In this story

Keywords: Earth and ocean sciences, oceans, research, robotics

People: Maeva Gauthier


Related stories