Three’s the Charm for Ocean Research


In hockey, three goals in one game is called a hat trick.

In baseball, a pitcher is awarded a K for delivering three strikes.

And when three Killam Scholars are appointed to oversee the management of a transnational ocean research institute, the academic world sits up and takes notice.

Wendy Watson-Wright, Marlon Lewis and Paul Snelgrove became Killam laureates at different stages of their academic careers but all through their association with Dalhousie University. Watson-Wright received a Killam scholarship in support of her doctoral studies from 1982 to 1985. Lewis won the Faculty of Science Killam Prize in 1995 and was appointed a Faculty of Science Killam Professor from 2007 – 2012, while Snelgrove was awarded a coveted Killam postdoctoral fellowship in 1996. This scholarship trifecta exemplifies the return on the Killam investment, and the breadth and variety of Killam awards available at Dalhousie University, which received the largest portion of the Killam estate when Mrs. Killam died in 1965. In her Will she chose to donate to institutions in those provinces where Mr. Killam had business interests during his lifetime and given that he was a native Nova Scotian, Dalhousie University was a prime benefactor. Killam programs also run at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill, the Canada Council for the Arts, the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia.

“The name Killam is synonymous with excellence and so there’s a high expectation that when three Killam scholars collaborate and pursue research in support of sustainable ocean management practices, exciting things will happen,” said Wendy Watson-Wright, Chief Executive Officer of the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI).

Watson-Wright, Lewis, and Snelgrove were appointed in September 2016 to lead OFI, established through an investment of $227 million, of which $94 million came from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund and is the largest grant in the history of ocean research in Canada.

“The investment is significant but so is the expected return,” said Dr. Lewis, OFI’s Scientific Director. “Our research focuses on the natural processes at play in the changing North Atlantic, and on developing solutions to accommodate these changes. Understanding and responding effectively to these changes is crucial to ensuring ecosystem sustainability and responsible growth.”

Collaboration is central to how OFI is organized and conducts its work. Led by partners Dalhousie University, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Prince Edward Island, OFI is supported by eight international ocean institutes and various governmental organizations. Private industry is also involved and will play a key role in identifying how research results can be applied in a commercial setting, especially as it relates to strengthening the fishing and aquaculture industries.

“The Killam award brought me back to Canada, and now we have an opportunity to bring together the best in ocean research — with all stakeholders collaborating and working side by side,” said Dr. Snelgrove, OFI’s Associate Scientific Director. “Together we will advance our understanding of ocean change and identify solutions that will generate broad benefits.”

OFI’s mandate also includes programs to advance ocean education and training, increase ocean literacy and enable better science by investing in new lab and research space. A focus on data management will allow OFI to gather and share research results, creating a catalyst for advancing ocean management solutions and establishing government policy.