Swimming upstream: How one Environmental Science student is using research to protect salmon habitats 

By Ming Yeung, Marketing and Communications

Kiera Hadden is interested in everything science – biology, earth and environmental – and applies this passion to a cause close to her heart.

Port Moody’s Noons Creek is close to where Kiera grew up. It’s the place where, as a child, she’d release Chum salmon fry to begin their four-year lifecycle, and it’s the place where she chose to conduct research project this year for one of her Environmental Science classes at Douglas College. By focusing her project on the protection of salmon habitat in the local stream, she saw an opportunity to dive deeper into chemistry and water quality.

With the help of her professor, Dr. Elinor Matheson from the Douglas College Biology Department, Kiera embarked on her project. “It seemed like a good topic to explore because I could use what I learned in the classroom and apply it to a real-life project that I’m passionate about,” she says.

Turning passion into research

Noons Creek Hatchery in Port Moody, B.C.

Kiera’s research project has its roots in volunteerism. When the former director of Noons Creek Hatchery’s Water Quality Lab stepped down earlier this year, Kiera expressed interest in the position as a long-time volunteer for the hatchery.

Once in the position, Kiera learned that due to limited resources and time, water samples were collected and tested only once a week. And, infrequently, when water samples were tested twice weekly, different results were obtained.

“Sometimes the data collected seemed abnormal due to testing frequency, but we didn’t know whether this poses a risk to the fish and surrounding ecosystem,” she says. “I didn’t know if we were missing out on getting the full water-quality picture because we were only testing one sample once a week.”

“When I had a question, I had to figure out the answer to it myself. I felt like a real scientist.”

Achieving results via experimentation

Water sample from Noons Creek in Port Moody, B.C.

For the experimental portion of her research, Kiera collected and tested water samples from different areas in the creek throughout March. These tests often ended with varying results, an outcome that meant more testing regardless of weather conditions.

“The water was almost knee deep. I had to make sure I didn’t fall, or my equipment get washed away,” she explains. “Once I got back to the lab, I would be alone for about two hours. So, conducting these experiments was a difficult and lonesome process.” Despite these challenges, Kiera was delighted that the variability between data didn’t create a harmful water quality for the fish. “I was relieved that we weren’t missing out on anything,” she says. “We can be confident that the data we collect is reasonably representative of the health of the creek.”

Like all scientists conducting experiments, solving one problem naturally leads to subsequent ones. “There’s a lot of variabilities in the creek. If you get a strange number, you don’t really know what caused it,” Kiera says. “Was there pollution? It’s not just something I could Google. When I had a question, I had to figure out the answer to it myself. I felt like a real scientist.”

In the future, Kiera’s research will continue to help the Noons Creek Hatchery and surrounding ecosystem. She’s also talking with a nearby hatchery about comparing lab methods and discussing other water monitoring projects in the area.

“I really love the sciences. So, conducting research is something I would like to keep doing. Learning about the environment, watching changes that are happening in real time and figuring out how we can improve it.”

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