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Date: February 10, 2000

Massive Bi-Coastal Research Project Addresses Communities in Crisis

Researchers at UVic, Memorial University, and the University of Calgary will be trying to untangle and understand the complex web of social, economic and environmental interrelations at the heart of threatened coastal communities. The three universities are part of a $6.2 million research project--funded by the federal government--dedicated to increasing knowledge about Canada's coastal communities and their environments.

Over the next Žve years, researchers at the three universities along with colleagues at several other institutions, will conduct the collaborative investigation titled "Coasts Under Stress: The Impact of Social and Environmental Restructuring on Environmental and Human Health in Canada." The study will take place on Canada's east and west coasts and will provide a better understanding of the interactions between ecology, society and health.

The research team will identify ways in which changes to the natural environment, triggered by such things as over-Žshing, have interacted over the past several decades with social and cultural changes such as industrial restructuring, state policy initiatives and the new global economy. They will then examine how these interactions have affected human and environmental health and well-being.

The project is part of an $18-million investment in Major Collaborative Research Initiatives announced by John Manley, minister of industry and minister responsible for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). SSHRC will contribute $2.5 million and NSERC will contribute $3.7 million to support this study. Participating universities will also provide support for this initiative.

"This project has a longer inter-disciplinary reach than any other initiative ever launched in Canada," says Dr. Rosemary Ommer, director of the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Calgary and the project's leader. "We will be conducting case studies on both coasts to determine which problems are specific to the locale and which are the result of current overall structure or policy. We want to create linkages between the decisions of large organizations and the effect they have on ecosystems, the environment and the people of the coastal communities."

"This is the first collaboration of its kind between SSHRC and NSERC and it's a further example of our commitment to interdisciplinary research at the University of Victoria," says Dr. Martin Taylor, UVic's vice-president of research. The project will be guided by steering committees on both coasts with each guided by two co-chairs.

"Examples of major resource issues that we will be addressing on the West Coast include the crises in the salmon fishery and aquaculture industry and the environmental concerns over developing offshore oil and gas reserves," says co-chair Dr. Chris Barnes, director of UVic's school of earth and ocean sciences. "There are opportunities to draw comparisons with the dramatic developments in the fishery and energy sectors on the East Coast and their effects on the coastal communities."

"The emphasis will be on interaction with the people in communities whose living came from resource-based jobs and who now face trying to maintain their lifestyle in the face of industry globalization and diminished resources," adds UVic co-chair Dr. Harold Coward, director of the centre for studies in religion and society. "We want to help these people maintain their livelihoods in a way that sustains the fish and the forests and other natural resources."

The project team will consist of 60 faculty co-investigators and several international collaborators. They will train 36 students, and 20 post-doctoral fellows and research associates. In addition to health and education scholars, social and natural scientists and humanists, the study will rely on partnerships with governments, industry, NGO's and communities on both coasts.

Media contacts:
Dr. Chris Barnes (earth and ocean sciences) at (250) 472-4345
Dr. Harold Coward (studies in religion and society) at (250) 721-6325
Patty Pitts (UVic communications) at (250) 721-7656.

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

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