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Raising Salmon at the Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility

December 14 2018, 10:00 AM

Raising Salmon at the Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility

When the air outside has cooled, and the rest of us begin to bundle up for the winter months ahead, the team at the Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility begin their prep for the next summer.  Every November, the team begins the months’ long process of spawning and rearing eggs and juvenile Atlantic salmon for release into the wild.

This process starts by catching healthy wild adult Atlantic Salmon juveniles, in waters above the head pond in the Saint John River (Wolastoq.) The fish are brought to the facility and reared to sexually mature adults over a period of 2 to 4 years. The majority of these mature fish are released back into the river to spawn naturally, but a small percentage are retained for captive breeding where eggs are extracted and fertilized on site. After being incubated for the next two months at the main facility, the eggs are moved across the river to the incubation building next to the Mactaquac Generating Station. The eggs are kept in large incubation tanks   where they will grow through the coldest months of the year until they hatch.

It’s this step in their journey, when the team at the Mactaquac Generating Station steps in to help. The incubation building is fed with warm water that comes out of the pump house at the Station. Because the temperatures can be unpredictable at times, the operators keep a close eye on the temperatures and adjust as needed so the temperatures inside the building stay at a safe level for the fish.

“There’s daily communication between our team and the team here at Mactaquac,” says John Whitelaw, a Biologist with the Biodiversity Facility. “This facility allows us to get an early start on hatching and feeding the fish. It’s incredibly important that the water temperatures and oxygen levels stay within a defined range, as it could stunt their growth or completely wipe out the eggs if we lose that.”


 

The young fish continue to benefit from this partnership once they’ve fully outgrown the tanks at the incubation building and get transported to the Aquadomes a short walk uphill. These domes are where they’ll spend the next few months growing until they reach their juvenile state and make their way back to the biodiversity facility across the river.

They’re transported in large tanks by truck across the dam where they are released into rock pools that mimic natural riverbeds. They’ll stay here until they’re big enough to be released back to the river to start their journey to the marine environment.

“This partnership began when the dam was built to mitigate loss with the operation of the dam,” says Whitelaw. “Since then, there has been a shift in thinking to conservation and preservation of the species. So in 1984, this early rearing facility was built as an add-on to what we were already doing to help us learn new things on how we use our facilities and how we can incorporate new science to help put more salmon back in the river.”

The Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility also collects migrating salmon and gaspereau at a specially designed fish lift at the Mactaquac Hydroelectric Dam and trucks and releases them upriver of the Dam.

Point Lepreau employees give a helping hand to Monarch Butterflies

September 18 2018, 11:03 AM

Point Lepreau employees give a helping hand to Monarch Butterflies

Every summer, Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station welcomes some unique visitors. It’s an ideal stop for Monarch Butterflies as they re-fuel for their 3,500 km journey to Mexico for the winter. The butterflies will feast on the fields of Goldenrod, Aster and Thistle, along with Milkweed planted by Station staff.

These plants are both a home and food source for Monarch butterfly eggs, and then the caterpillars which they become. This summer, these caterpillars ate through most of the planted milkweed at Lepreau, helping them grow quickly into their pupal (chrysalis) stage. But, while observing their progress, Point Lepreau Environmental Specialist, Carolyn Campbell noticed that a number of the caterpillars might struggle to find sufficient foliage and secure place to survive their pupal stage and devised a plan.

“After meeting the naturalist folks last year I took a huge interest in monarchs,” said Carolyn. “When I saw the 50+ caterpillars on the small patch of bare milkweed I knew we had to help. As a result of that so many other people are developing the passion that I now have to learn more and help out. It has been amazing to watch.”

In nature, only 10% to 15% of all these caterpillars survive long enough to reach their chrysalis stage.  The caterpillars typically attach themselves to the underside of a leaf, and then shed their striped caterpillar skin, revealing a turquoise-green colored camouflage which helps protect them against predators while they gradually change into their adult state inside this new cocoon-like state. To help these caterpillars beat the odds, Carolyn and a group of her peers at the Station worked quickly to build a special incubator for the caterpillars. By setting up this habitat for the caterpillars, Carolyn and team expect the likelihood of survival to be closer to 75% for these caterpillars.

Inside their new habitat, the caterpillars are set up on Milkweed clippings. Grated netting seals the top of the aquarium, providing a place for the larvae to weave a tiny silk pad that they’ll anchor the bottom of their abdomen to. They’ll hang here in this upside down position for 12 to 48 hours before extracting itself from its caterpillar skeleton and enter their pupal stage.

The caterpillars will remain in their cocoons for 8 to 15 days before they emerge as adult butterflies.

At first, the butterflies may be a bit weak. To help them get used to their new wings, Carolyn and team set up a special netting structure to place them to keep them safe while they get comfortable.

When they’re ready to take off, these butterflies will be tagged, with the help of the Jim Wilson of the Saint John Naturalists’ Club at their observatory on the Point, who has spent the last 12 years tagging these endangered butterflies. Once tagged, they will begin their journey to Mexico. Tagging helps provides data that is used to learn more about the migratory cycle and to protect it.

Point Lepreau is so important to the Monarch migration,” says Jim. “It has been a wonderful work with NB Power. We are very appreciative for this great relationship.”

The observatory at Point Lepreau is one of only two tagging stations in New Brunswick.

In 2017, Point Lepreau was designated an official Monarch Watch stop for these butterflies, due to all the undisturbed fields of pollinating species and the planted milkweed that the Monarchs need. Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.

The birds are back in town

June 14 2017, 13:33 PM

The birds are back in town

NB Power line technicians and other crews work alongside different types of nature within their day-to-day jobs. Trees, shrubs and even squirrels can interfere with power lines and other electrical structures. One of the main threats to energized equipment are birds, particularly ospreys, or larger birds of prey.

In order to ensure safe, reliable energy to our customers while also keeping osprey populations safe, NB Power follows an Avian Protection Plan (APP). The APP is designed to protect migratory birds by reducing the number of interactions birds make with electrical equipment. This is accomplished by identifying high-traffic osprey areas and modifying our structures with safer parts. The APP also directs maintenance crews on how to avoid and, when necessary, handle active bird nests.

Ospreys are attracted to utility poles because they serve as vantage points for hunting, roosting sites, eating platforms, a place to nest, territorial boundary markers and shelter from the elements. Usually birds can interact with utility poles without any harm coming to them, but there is always a risk of the birds coming in contact with the energized equipment- this can be dangerous for both the birds and our equipment, as it can cause harm to the birds and cause power outages for our customers.

Baby birds are at even greater risk, as they awkwardly move around equipment while learning to fly. Sticks or other nesting material that fall from the nest can also cause short circuits.

We take several measures to prevent harm from coming to birds and potential outages from their activity. This includes developing a special training program for employees who are directly involved with the design, construction, operation and maintenance of electrical facilities and equipment.

We also have plans in place to avoid building transmission lines in the following areas whenever possible:

  • wetlands;
  • known bird concentration areas (sensitive areas, ecological reserves, etc.);
  • daily movement flyways (e.g., between a wetland and adjacent agricultural field);
  • habitat of species at risk; and
  • areas with a high incidence of fog and mist

Osprey contact with transmission lines usually occur on lines that are close to areas where ducks, geese and other large water birds frequently fly. In up to 90%of cases, birds come in contact with an overhead wire instead of the more visible energized conductors. Approaching birds will often fly upwards to avoid the conductors, only to hit the wire. Research has shown that removing the overhead wire can decrease those collisions by half.

NB Power has plans in place to place lines in a way that reduce the risk of ospreys and other large birds making contact with these lines. For example, we build new transmission lines at the same height or lower than nearby trees and vegetation. Birds will gain altitude to fly over the obvious tree line and avoid any contact with the line.

Finally, we work with the Department of Natural Resources to build high wooden platforms to encourage nest-building away from our poles. When we discover active nests on our structures, we assess to determine if they are immediate threats to the electrical system. If the nest doesn’t pose a threat, we will inspect the area after the osprey chicks leave the nest (end of the summer) but before the following nesting season (early spring) takes place. After the baby birds have left the nest, we can transfer it to an adjacent osprey platform.

The Canadian Rivers Institute and the Mactaquac Project

May 5 2016, 15:19 PM

The Canadian Rivers Institute and the Mactaquac Project

We have a big decision to make about the future of the Mactaquac Generating Station. The station is nearing the end of its life, and NB Power is considering what to do next. Whatever is decided will have a big impact on the environment and the people who live and work near the station. That’s why NB Power is working with experts and the public to find out what those impacts might be, and how to lessen them.

Under the guidance of top scientists, the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study (MAES) examines the Saint John River above, around and below the dam at Mactaquac Generating Station to support NB Power with science-based information.

Dr. Allen Curry, Science Director at the Canadian Rivers Institute, points out some key aspects about the project in this week’s blog post.

What is the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study?

It’s a multi-year project and the first in-depth study of its kind of the Saint John River and unique in this sense among studies of large Canadian rivers. It’s divided into three phases: Phase 1 (now until 2017), Phase 2 (during the Environmental Impact Assessment [link to CER blog] and followed work at the station) and Phase 3: (after construction or drawdown.)

Our university-based team includes professional scientists and engineers from different disciplines including biology, geology and engineering, field and computer technicians, and more than 50 students.  We are presently working on more than 30 different studies that examine the whole river ecosystem, fish passage and environmental flow in the Saint John River.

What is the goal of the MAES?

The goal of Phase 1 of MAES is to establish a thorough characterization of the river and headpond to improve our understanding of the ecosystem in these areas and to use various models to predict changes to the ecosystem under each of the options.  This information will be used to inform NB Power and to support our own scientific research.

How large is the study area compared to the river?

The Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study area stretches from the Tobique River headwaters to the estuary in Saint John, though some of the projects focus on study areas that are smaller and more focused on a particular issue.

What exactly are you looking at when you look at the river as a whole?

Our reason for undertaking a whole river ecosystem study is to attempt to understand, to the best of our ability, the full extent of how the MGS has affected the ecosystem of the SJR to date and to predict the likely changes of the options on the whole river ecosystem.  This is different than the typical approach of limiting the study to smaller sections of a river as is commonly done due to the time and financial constraints of collecting sufficient data over large areas.   The whole river ecosystem approach also attempts to bring together biological and ecological information, like fish and plant communities, with physical and chemical information like water and sediment quality and river flows in such a way that the information can be considered together when characterizing the river ecosystem and making predictions about its future. 

Dams are infrastructures that block natural fish passage in a river. How are you studying fish passage for Mactaquac?

We have reviewed existing literature, hosted an expert workshop to discuss global views on fish passage for multiple species, and visited with other experts in areas where dams have been removed. With the data collected via fish tags [link to Austin’s blog], the team will also study individual species including the Atlantic salmon, Striped bass, Sturgeons, American eel and Muskellunge.  For example, our study of Atlantic salmon looks at all life stages of migration (adults upstream and downstream, and smolts downstream) and considers not just the dam as a potential barrier to passage, but also the large and lake-like headpond.

Why is the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study so important?

The Saint John River flows 673 kilometers from the woods of northern Maine into the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. It is the second longest river in eastern North America and supports the greatest diversity of aquatic plants and animals in eastern Canada, including 15 at-risk species. 

Our collective understanding of how dams affect river ecosystems has improved greatly since the original construction of the dam.  There is an opportunity with the Mactaquac Project to reverse some of the adverse changes that have occurred during the time since its construction through the removal of the dam, or to improve the design and operation of a new dam such that the whole-river ecosystem is improved compared to the present.  Such opportunities should not be taken lightly, or done without sufficient consideration of the best data using state-of-the-art science and engineering methods and models.  We believe that MAES is vital to NB Power making a well-informed decision that provides maximum benefit to the state of the Saint John River ecosystem and that this will in turn be a benefit to all who live within its vast watershed. 

On watch: Migratory sea birds at Point Lepreau

May 14 2015, 07:00 AM

Migratory Birds

The white-silver kitchen timer beeps; break is over.

Jim Wilson and Gail Taylor monitor the washed-out grey sky for dark spotted lines or V-shaped rows through their binoculars. Jim and Gail are members of the Saint John Naturalists’ Club, a non-profit group that has been sending volunteers to count migrating birds at the Point Lepreau Generating Station for 20 years.

The club chose to build the observatory at Point Lepreau, because of how much further it reaches out to the water than other areas along the southern New Brunswick shore. NB Power has worked closely with the club over the past 20 years to make sure they have safe access to the observatory, which falls on the Station’s property.

“Our relationship with NB Power has been wonderful,” Jim says.

NB Power adheres to an Avian Protection Plan and works closely with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources to protect and conserve various species of migratory birds- from these sea birds to ospreys- around NB Power facilities during their nesting seasons.

More than just bird watching

When the club decided to build their observatory, information about the species and numbers of sea birds migrating along the southern New Brunswick shore was limited. Now they send the information they collect on these birds to Canadian Wildlife Service – a part of Environment Canada.

The collected data of the past 20 years indicates a 3-4% decline in the number of birds, Jim says. Heavy metals from industrial waste or even small oil spills in Northern Canada are hard to measure, but will have their toll on a bird population over time. A large spill before the New Brunswick coasts could stay for weeks in the bay with the way the water flows and could have devastating effects if it happens at the peak time of migration.

The Canadian Wildlife Services also supports the Saint John Naturalists with recording materials and funding to hire an experienced bird counter for six out of the eight weeks they are counting - starting at sunrise until 10 a.m.

The hired counter guides volunteers in identifying the birds by their body shapes, colours, flight patterns and cadence (the rhythm of how fast their wings move.) Typically the males show off their bright colours, says Jim, while the females have patchy brown feathers that act like a camouflage when they are incubating eggs.

Keeping up with the birds

In intervals of 15 min counting and 15 min break, Jim and Gail spend their morning in the toasty hut while the tide waves roar toward the rocky shore.

“Here, we go, some Scoters are coming,” says Gail and both binoculars turn to the right. First a group of 40 birds fly past the post out front that serves as a mark. Then 50 more, 60, 100. Within two minutes, the number reaches 450 birds. Jim and Gail count by tens to keep up with the constant flow of birds. Then the kitchen timer bleeps. When time is up, all birds that haven’t passed the post aren’t recorded, no matter if it’s a dozen or a hundred. For bird lovers like Gail and Jim, it’s hard to let those pass.

“You never know what’s going to fly by,” says Jim, always hoping for a King Eider, a highly arctic bird that rarely comes down to the New Brunswick shores.

Then he grabs his binoculars as another flock of birds fly by.

See more photos on NB Power's Flickr page

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