Exploring the unknown
Sarah Stewart makes significant discoveries on the feeding habits of Anadromous Alewife fish
Acadia environmental science student Sarah Stewart’s love of the ocean has been a lifelong relationship. In fact, she loves it so much she’s made it her education, research and future career.
Sarah attended her first Science Atlantic Environment Conference at St. Francis Xavier University this winter and was recipient of the second place Undergraduate Research Award for oral presentation.
Raised by two fine arts majors who now teach art and music, Sarah nonetheless credits her parents with inspiring her love for science. She says her father who is Okanagan First Nations, “always emphasized the importance of being outside and connecting with nature. I think that’s why I went into the sciences,” she said.
Sarah grew up snorkelling in Maritime waters; not even going inside when dinner was ready – no small thing she assures. “I decided that since I love the ocean so much I wanted to study fish. It was something I’ve wanted to do since I was really little.”
Now in her fourth year pursuing an honours in environmental science, Sarah was looking for an advisor who would allow her to be hands on – literally – with her research specimens. She found who she was looking for in Dr. Mike Stokesbury, a professor of biology at Acadia University.
“I chose Mike because he really cares about what he does… He has a really good energy to be around. For some people teaching is just a job but for Mike you can tell it is a passion,” Sarah said.
Sarah is making significant discoveries on the feeding habits of Anadromous Alewife fish who travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the freshwater lakes of Aulac, NB during spawning migration.
“It was previously thought that the fish I study don’t feed in fresh water when they are spawning because they are more focused on spawning. But I thought that was weird because they are going to need an energy source,” Sarah said.
Her findings prove her suspicions were correct: “They do eat when they are spawning. They do a lot of filter feeding, eat zooplankton and opportunistically feed on larger macro invertebrates.”
For Sarah, these findings provide valuable information on how to protect their ecosystems and by extension support other animal and human life.
For example, her findings can be applied to inform, “more heavily enforced regulations on what can be put into systems so it doesn’t destroy the species they feed on. And in terms of anthropogenic significance a lot of different communities use these to fish as a source to fish lobster and larger fish as well,” she explained.
“Having grown up around fish in a coastal area, I’ve seen the impact they have on communities as a source of food and income. I wanted to be involved in that because there isn’t a lot of information on it but it’s such a big part of Maritime life.”
Sarah is inspired by how much of the ocean is unknown to us. “So much of the ocean isn’t explored. In biology, terrestrial organisms like wolves and bears get an overwhelming amount of attention.
Having grown up around fish in a coastal area, I’ve seen the impact they have on communities as a source of food and income. I wanted to be involved in that because there isn’t a lot of information on it but it’s such a big part of Maritime life.”
Sarah is looking forward to graduating this spring and is pursuing career opportunities in marine biology in the Maritime provinces.