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Sustainable solutions

University and community researchers tackle coastal community sustainability through two-eyed seeing lens

By Pamela Gill

Memorial and a consortium of university-affiliated and community-affiliated researchers from Mi’kmaw communities across Newfoundland have been awarded nearly $15 million through the federal New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).

The funding will be used to investigate how repurposed marine biomass can develop new products and create a more sustainable future for Newfoundland and Labrador’s coastal communities.

The large-scale, interdisciplinary project, supported through NFRF’s Transformation stream, is titled Repurposing Marine By-products or Raw Materials for the Development and Production of Functional Foods and Bioactives to Improve Human Health and Coastal Community Sustainability.

Global collaborators

Dr. Raymond Thomas, the nominated principal investigator, is a professor of environmental chemistry at Memorial’s Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.

The co-principal investigator, Dr. Kelly Hawboldt, is a professor in the Department of Process Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, at Memorial’s St. John’s campus.

Together, they’ve brought together a team of global collaborators from local Mi’kmaw communities and businesses from Newfoundland and Labrador, colleagues from Dalhousie University, Mount St. Vincent University, University of Waterloo and Cape Breton University, and international partners from Ireland, Japan, Italy, and Australia.

This team will investigate marine biomass and marine functional foods with a view to repurposing by-products and raw materials for the development and production of functional foods, bioactives and biomaterials with the ultimate goal of improving human health and coastal community sustainability.

“This is an example of the exemplary research being conducted at Memorial University,” said President Vianne Timmons. “As is stated in Transforming Our Horizons, our new strategic plan, we have a special obligation to the people of our province. This major funding success is focused exactly on that: research that, while global in application, aims to better the lives of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Unprecedented achievement

The funding announcement is a historic one for Grenfell Campus.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, this project team has realized the largest tri-agency grant Grenfell Campus has ever received, one that will bring together Mi’kmaw groups and other experts from around the world to address sustainability,” said Dr. Ian Sutherland, vice-president (Grenfell Campus), Memorial University. “We are immensely proud of this team, these partners, and are proud to play a leadership role in bringing them together to address core challenges facing the world today.”

Dr. Raymond Thomas wears black glasses, a dark blue blazer and a light blue collared shirt.
Dr. Raymond Thomas
Photo: Submitted

The project is looking for sustainable solutions to coastal ecological, economic and social issues. Dr. Thomas views economic innovation as integral to sustainability.

In addition to identifying new products by repurposing marine waste with applications in agriculture, food, nutraceuticals, biomaterials and health industries, he says, a fundamental part of the research includes assessment of the socio-economic implications and commercial value of any product and potential new revenue streams for firms.

“We propose an integrated approach to assess, repurpose and develop novel or innovative products and processes from marine raw materials for the benefit of coastal communities,” he said.

Hear more from Dr. Thomas in the video below about integrating Indigenous and western knowledge to create new knowledge and innovation — something that has never been done in Newfoundland and Labrador before.

Two-eyed seeing

The project employs a collaborative multidisciplinary research approach that integrates Western knowledge systems and Indigenous knowledge systems.

Two-eyed seeing, a Mi’kmaw conceptual framework for research developed by Elder Albert Marshall, embodies deep cross-cultural collaboration between non-Indigenous and Indigenous research teams by using both “eyes” to consider a problem: one eye representing western knowledge and the other eye representing Indigenous knowledge systems.

“Our ancestors would be proud to see this concept come to life.” — Chief Joanne Miles

By working toward integrating two-eyed seeing, this research recognizes that using Indigenous knowledge systems alongside western knowledge systems can result in rigorous, evidence-based, contextually appropriate economic revitalization in rural coastal regions.

The consortium of Mi’kmaw leaders from across western Newfoundland includes Chief Jasen Benwah (Benoit First Nation); Chief Mi’sel Joe (Miawpukek First Nation); Chief Mildred Lavers (Mekap’sk Mi’kmaq Band); Chief Joanne Miles (Flat Bay Band); Chief Rhonda Sheppard (St. George’s Indian Band); and Chief Peggy White (Three Rivers Indian Band). The team is also collaborating with the Qalipu Development Corporation.

“I am so pleased to be part of this innovative project,” said Chief Miles. “As an Indigenous leader, I believe we must respect our land and water. This project reflects some of our traditional ways and our ancestors would be proud to see this concept come to life.”

Dr. Kelly Hawbolt wears a white lab jacket in a laboratory with equipment on shelves in front and behind her.
Dr. Kelly Hawboldt
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The project is also providing an excellent opportunity for post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduate students, who will gain new skills in the integration of coastal sustainability, entrepreneurialism and ocean-based research.

By integrating socio-economic and lab-based product research working toward two-eyed seeing, the research team plans to enhance the capacity of rural, coastal and Mi’kmaw communities to participate in and benefit from innovative marine-based commercial opportunities.

In addition to the NFRF grant, the project has leveraged strong industrial and institutional support, including St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc.ClearwaterQalipu Development CorporationAbriTech Inc., Carino Processing Ltd.Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry, Association, Growing for LifeNewfoundland AquaponicsNL Seaweed Company and NL Marine Organics.

Eight sub-projects

The project comprises eight work-packages that focus on the following:

  • Developing an understanding of the economic and cultural histories of coastal communities, especially in relation to marine biomass as a community asset
  • Processing shellfish by-products (snow crab, green crab, mussels, shrimp etc.), finfish residues (guts, trimmings, bones, head etc.), eel, sea cucumber and seaweed as feedstock for value-added or secondary processed products
  • Assessing the composition of the raw materials, feedstock or extracts to determine product development suitability
  • Investigating the development, formulation and testing of functional foods, biosensors, biomaterials and nano-biofertilizers from the extracts and waste/residues
  • Establishing and validating the health benefits of extracts, biosensors and functional food products using clinical populations and animal or cell models of human disease
  • Advancing sustainable coastal entrepreneurship and economic development opportunities
  • Mobilizing knowledge and assessing impacts, interconnecting all the work packages using Memorial University’s public engagement model: engagement built on mutual contribution, mutual respect and mutual benefit
  • Managing and analyzing data to better understand the relationships between the data collected across the various disciplines and how these can be integrated to facilitate better project success

“We emphasize community engagement and the co-creation of knowledge between all partners, and aim to build new networks for product development,” said Dr. Hawboldt.

“Our approach recognizes that social and cultural sustainability and healthy populations are vital to resilient rural regions. While the research is taking place in Newfoundland and Labrador, the approach to developing new products and the framework for working with communities on sustainable development is global. The approach and framework will be exportable and applicable to ocean-based communities and industries worldwide.”

There are numerous Memorial University researchers and researchers from around the world involved in the project. Find the full participant list here.

You can hear more from Dr. Hawboldt about maximizing returns for the communities and regions who own the resource in the video below.

The NFRF is under the strategic direction of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee. It is managed as a tri-agency program by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), on behalf of Canada’s three research granting agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and SSHRC. 


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