NIC biologist on forefront of marine research

NIC biology instructor Dr. Emaline Montgomery with a potentially new species of sea spider. (Submitted photo)

NIC biology instructor and marine researcher Dr. Emaline Montgomery is hoping to inspire the next generation of marine biologists.

Montgomery is teaching biology this summer at NIC, and is excited to share her passion for marine biology – a passion she developed exploring the beaches of Vancouver Island during summer outings with her family.

“I was lucky to get to spend my summers exploring the beaches of Vancouver Island with my family,” she said. “Getting introduced to the weird and wonderful marine invertebrates of BC in this way inspired me to learn more about them, especially the sea stars.”

Last summer, she spent two weeks aboard Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen — the icebreaker vessel on the $50 bill — along with 25 other researchers, technicians and graduate students, collecting samples from up to 2.5 kilometres below the surface.

The CCGS Amundsen expedition is part of a three-year scientific mission funded by the DFO to survey the North Atlantic Ocean floor between Frobisher Bay, Nunavut and Greenland.

The aim is to discover more about the unexplored biological and oceanographic features to build a case for a new marine protected area.

Such expeditions are rare due to costs and logistics, but provide invaluable information about marine life.

“It’s brand new,” said Montgomery. “These are regions that are incredibly deep and very cold and have lots of rich nutrients. And they’re also recognized for being important habitat for soft sponges and corals, which provide reefs, kind of like the coral reefs in the tropics.”

They discovered dozens of specimens, including coral, sea cucumbers, and sea spiders. Many of the organisms are potentially new to science, said Montgomery, who studies echinoderms, such as sea stars, and benthic invertebrates.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “And even though they’re quite small, there’s a lot of beauty in these small creatures.”

The team has spent the last year analyzing the specimens that were collected. Several new species of sea cucumbers are currently being investigated. Some of the research was presented by Montgomery’s colleagues at the ArcticNet Conference in December 2019.

Montgomery is also continuing research in BC, looking at local sea cucumbers and exploring their use in multi-species aquaculture, along-side shellfish and finfish. The goal is to integrate multiple species that are beneficial to each other and promote sustainable aquaculture practices.

"There's still so much to learn about the marine environment and the wide range of animals that live in the water," said Montgomery. "The more we learn, the better equipped we are to take steps to improve our relationship with the ocean before it's too late."

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