Towards a Regional Monitoring Framework for Cumulative Impacts Assessment in the Northumberland Strait: Linking land-use, stressor loads and nearshore biological integrity

Principal Investigator - Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity, Department of Biol, 2012 - 2014

The Northumberland Strait, which separates Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, has seen declines in fish stocks and environmental degradation in its rivers, estuaries and the Strait itself over the past two decades.

An extensive consultation with stakeholders in the region (see Northumberland Strait Ecosystem Overview Report, AMEC 2007), pointed to several environmental concerns that required monitoring, and revealed that the Strait’s watersheds require better management.

The Northumberland Strait Environmental Monitoring Partnership (NorSt–EMP), a partnership of government, industry and non-governmental organizations, was formed in 2011 to address the need for a monitoring framework to support cumulative effects assessment in the region. The highest priority concerns for monitoring are the influx of sediments, contaminants and nutrients from land-based activities that degrade the rivers, estuaries and the coastal regions of the Strait. The priority valued ecosystem components identified were the region’s estuarine biota, particularly its submerged aquatic plants, invertebrates and fish — all of which directly or indirectly support coastal fisheries, aquaculture, tourism and recreation in the Strait.

This project, led by Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, seeks to require not only a better understanding of the links between human activities and the environmental changes that have been observed in the Northumberland Strait.


To assess and manage cumulative effects of multiple stressors in the Northumberland Strait, researchers are developing monitoring tools as well as establishing relationships between stressors and their impacts on key biota in the region.

Research is being conducted in 20 estuaries/watersheds across the range of nutrient and sediment stressors in the Strait and is focusing on three broad areas — quantifying land-based stressors, developing monitoring tools to assess estuarine integrity, and developing predictive stressor-based models of estuarine impacts. The research will be focused on the following activities:

  •  Advancing methods to quantify land-based stressors, primarily the influx of nutrients and sediment into the Strait. This research is critical, as it establishes the link between estuarine biological monitoring and activities on land so watershed managers can make informed decisions.
  • Developing monitoring tools to restore and maintain estuarine integrity. To facilitate a legacy of integrated monitoring, it is essential that the monitoring tools being developed be sensitive to environmental parameters in the chosen estuaries, be feasible both temporally and spatially, and be economically realistic.
  • Advancing cumulative effects assessments in the Strait by developing stressor-based models of estuarine impacts. This component will integrate all components of the project by developing predictive models to support the decisions of end users.

Anticipated outputs include:

  • Development of predicative models that link land-based sediments and nutrients to cumulative effects.
  • Development of stressor–response models.
  • Production of a guideline report for estuarine monitoring and hold workshops to inform watershed and community groups in the region, the primary end users of the biological monitoring tools.

Anticipated outcomes include:

  • Improved understanding of the links between human activities and the environmental changes that have been observed in the Northumberland Strait.
  • Inform decision-making related to the implementation of a robust regional monitoring framework.
  • Changes in practice related to the tool creation and guideline report, to manage, predict and mitigate cumulative effects in the Northumberland Strait.

research team and partners:

Research Team

Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity, Department of Biology Department, University of Prince Edward Island
Dr. Kerry MacQuarrie, Canada Research Chair in Groundwater-Surface Water Interactions, Department of Civil Engineering, University of New Brunswick
Dr. André St-Hilaire, Hydrologist, Water, Earth and Environment Centre, INRS, Université du Québec
Dr. Yefang Jiang, Hydrogeologist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Dr. Simon Courtenay, Professor, Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo; Scientific Director, Canadian Water Network


Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Canadian Rivers Institute

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Environment Canada

J.D. Irving Limited

Maritime Fisherman Union

Miramichi River Environmental Assessment Committee

New Brunswick Department of Environment

New Brunswick Professional Shellfish Grower Association

Northern Pulp Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Department of Environment
Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture
Parks Canada
PEI Fishermen's Association
Pictou Harbour Environmental Protection Project
Prince Edward Island Aquaculture Alliance
Prince Edward Island Department of Environment, Labour and Justice
Prince Edward Island Shellfish Association
Prince Edward Island Watershed Alliance
Southern Gulf of St-Lawrence Coalition on Sustainability

(5-page report)

CWN EN NorthumberlandStrait 2016