Coastal Biodiversity & Conservation

Instructor: Dr. Wendy Palen


In an area renowned for its spectacular biodiversity, this course offers students the opportunity to learn about the rich mosaic of coastal ecosystems that exist along the Pacific Northwest coast and the many species that inhabit them. We begin by acknowledging interconnections between people and ecosystems, and learning ways in which coastal Indigenous people have shaped regional biodiversity for millennia. Students will be asked to consider the roots of conservation, their own positionalities, and what this means for conducting applied research and conservation of biodiversity. We will consider patterns of biodiversity at multiple scales and learn about the processes that generate them. Concepts and issues such as ecosystem services, biodiversity change, and human impacts will be explored as will the approaches used to evaluate, monitor, and conserve biodiversity. Group projects will focus on local marine, intertidal, and terrestrial ecosystems and allow students to develop practical biodiversity surveying and monitoring skills and a consideration of how applied ecological research can influence conservation efforts. Overall, students will gain a deeper understanding of coastal biodiversity and conservation science in an area that boasts a truly remarkable assemblage of wild spaces, species, and interconnections with human communities.

Mission Statement: This is a field-based course focusing on the biodiversity and conservation of coastal ecosystems. It is our goal to engage students in both theoretical and empirical aspects of conservation ecology, while gaining an understanding of the rich coastal biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest coast.

Research Skills: Students will learn to identify, survey, and monitor coastal species in marine, intertidal, and terrestrial ecosystems. Students will develop questions and hypotheses, plan their scientific study design, undertake fieldwork to collect information, analyze their data using the open-source program R, communicate their findings to broad audiences, and develop avenues for applying research to conservation efforts.

Practical Skills: Students will improve their abilities to: think critically, voice their opinion on scientific topics, develop and implement scientific projects, use tools to measure and map abiotic and biotic habitat features, identify species, collect and analyze data, perform data management and analysis in R, communicate scientific findings, and be both a team player and an independent thinker.

Boat use: There will be many opportunities for students to drive boats (and having some students prepared to drive boats will be essential for some of the planned activities). Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and will participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.

Prerequisites: Third year standing, Introductory Statistics, Introductory Ecology

Physical Requirements: This is a physically demanding course, requiring moderate physical fitness. Field activities will include hiking and navigation, and students should have the ability to walk long distances (~5-10 km) in adverse weather and be capable of entry and exit in small boats on rocky shores (slippery, uneven surfaces) and in unpredictable seas.

Textbook: No required textbook but the following field guides are suggested: Whelks to Whales, Revised Second Edition: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest, and Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska by Jim Pojar and A. MacKinnon, Revised edition.  


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In the classroom, students confront theoretical and empirical examples of how to measure and understand coastal biodiversity, as well as practical examples of how to approach its management and conservation. The beauty of a field-base course, however, is that classroom knowledge doesn’t have to be left there or on paper. We put into practice in the field our lessons from the lectures, including running from the library to follow a feeding humpback whale around Trevor Channel. This and other biological events symbolizes the opportunities that nature provided during this BMSC course. On numerous early mornings, the students can be found measuring intertidal biodiversity in Barkley Sound, embarking on a fieldtrip to examine invertebrate biodiversity at 30m in the canopy platforms of old-growth Western Redcedar, and navigating fog on Pacific Rim National Park beaches while searching for shorebirds. The course finishes up with excellent presentations of student field projects

Registration Details

University of Victoria
MRNE 414 – Coastal Biodiversity & Conservation
Credit – 1.5 units

University of British Columbia
MRNE 401 – Special Topics in Marine Biology
Credit – 3 units
Registered by the Department

Simon Fraser University
MASC 414 – Coastal Biodiversity & Conservation
Credit – 3 units
Registered by the Department

University of Alberta
MA SC 401 – Special Topics in Marine Biology
Credit – 3 units
Registered by the Department

University of Calgary
MRSC 501 – Special Topics in Marine Biology
Credit – 3 units
Registered by the Department