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Cape Breton Students Create Story Map for Right Whale Research

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Five grade 12 students from Green School Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre/Academy (CBHA) recently learned how to use Global Information Systems (GIS) to conduct research and present their findings on an important marine issue in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. GIS is a tool that can analyze and manipulate data so users can visualize multiple pieces of data using maps. According to the GIS organization ESRI, “GIS is becoming essential to understanding what is happening and what will happen in geographic space” (ESRI, 2018).

This is exactly what the CBHA students did. After being introduced to GIS technology in their Global Geography 12 course, the students spent their free time over many lunch hours working on a GIS group project. They were curious about recent news stories reporting the rising number of deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Their idea was to develop a map that plotted the locations where each whale was found and add multiple layers including shipping lanes, ocean depths, fishing grounds, and ocean temperatures to look for any correlation. They found obvious shipping lanes that were close to where the whale bodies were found. They also noted ocean temperature changes that could be affecting the migration of the main food source for these cetaceans: plankton. Although this isn’t new research, the students’ map does a wonderful and important job of visually representing some of the problems encountered by North Atlantic right whales.

The students submitted their project in the form of an interactive story map to the ESRI GIS Conference and were approved to present in Halifax last November. The conference is primarily for professional and academic GIS users such as city planners, university professors, and private sector businesses. The CBHA students made the news because they were the only high school students who presented at the conference. Their presentation was in the form of a plenary session that all conference delegates would have attended. Congratulations to these five students for their hard work and dedication to using technology to better understand major environmental issues. Their Global Geography 12 teacher (and CBHA Green Team leader) Mr Bruce Miller commented that “this learning opportunity exposed students to a powerful and increasingly common way of understanding many issues in the world today and will allow them to use the skills they learned in future endeavours.”

These students are well on their way to becoming environmental stewards by sharing their research with their presentation which you can view here. Congratulations to all these dedicated individuals! 

~Shandel Brown
Engagement Officer, Cape Breton

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