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magazine / jun09

June 2009 issue

Environmental Scientist of the Year

The Transparent Oceans Project
After studying squid for two decades, Ron O’Dor had a revelation: whatever we have the power to change, we also have a responsibility to protect. Now he’s leading a global effort to get a clear picture of the challenges facing marine life. Meet Canadian Geographic’s Environmental Scientist of the Year.
Excerpt of story by John DeMont

On a sub-zero morning in late February, between a cobalt sky and a tea-green sea, the Dominion Victory — noble of name, but seedy of appearance — steams past Chebucto Head, at the south end of Halifax Harbour. The view is lost on Ron O’Dor, slight, grey-haired and 64, who sits inside the ship’s cabin thumbing away like any other BlackBerry-wielding Washington muckamuck. Even a sea off the coast of Nova Scotia, he’s pulled in too many directions: texting dinner reservations to a trattoria in Rome, where, in two nights, he will address members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; finalizing the details of a trip to Portugal for another speech later in the week; e-mailing data to a research colleague in New York City; preparing for an on-deck video shoot welcoming delegates to a scientific conference in Halifax.


When a grey sphere with a blue target area appears on the monitor of a nearby laptop, however, O’Dor is instantly riveted. A red ring on the screen tells him how far the Dominion Victory is from the closest underwater acoustic receiver in the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), a world-wide surveillance system created to monitor water conditions and the movements of marine animals in all five oceans. Thousands of fish, birds and marine mammals have been implanted with acoustic tags that emit distinctive signals, which are captured as the animals pass by the underwater sensors. O’Dor, who helms the international arm of the $168 million OTN, is riding shotgun today as the crew downloads information from a string of 28 receivers running east from Halifax. In total, there are about 1,000 receivers in the network, a figure that’s supposed to jump by 400 percent within five years. When completed, the so-called Halifax Line will extend roughly 200 kilometres to the edge of the continental shelf.

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