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Ellie Ward: Report on placement at Akvaplan-NIVA, Tromsø

From July to September 2021, I was based with the Norwegian company Akvaplan-NIVA to fulfil my placement as part of the DurhamARCTIC program and to undertake my own PhD fieldwork. Akvaplan-NIVA (Akvaplan herein) is a daughter institute of the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA). They are a private company that offer analytical services, advisory services (such as environmental monitoring programs and risk assessments) and perform research and development in conjunction with universities and other research bodies. These services are all focussed around marine and freshwater related issues with a strong focus on fish and fisheries. As a placement this provided me with an insight into fisheries science outside of the academic setting and supports my PhD training in freshwater and marine ecology.

It was certainly a strange year for travel, and with COVID cases rising rapidly across England, I felt sure this trip would not be going ahead. But, after six covid tests, being marshalled through airports, eight days in quarantine and many explanations to border control, I made it to Tromsø, Norway. Here, I spent three months with Akvaplan under the supervision of Guttorm Christensen, manager for the department of coastal and freshwater research. Following my travel quarantine, I was introduced to home for the next few weeks, a 50-foot sailing vessel called Meridian. On 11th July we set sail from Tromsø for Bjørnøya (Bear Island), a high Arctic Island situated in the Norwegian Sea, 397 km North of Norway and 235km south of mainland Spitsbergen. It took a few days getting the sea legs by which time we had arrived at Bjørnøya where we were to be fishing a lake for Arctic charr (a salmonid fish). This contributed to both a long-term pollutant monitoring project for Akvaplan, and the main part of my Arctic fieldwork. A hectic 24 hours of sampling, with some help from the midnight sun, and we were soon back on Meridian with a freezer full of samples.

We continued our trip to Svalbard where we spent a week sailing around Isfjorden as part of an acoustic tagging project run by Akvaplan (figure 1). This involved catching migratory Arctic charr, and implanting acoustic tags into them which, when detected by receivers, provide data of an individual fish’s location. This data will be used to determine which lakes migratory Arctic charr are using to overwinter and spawn in and is critical for resource management decisions of the populations in Isfjorden. For example, it may identify areas for which stricter fishing regulations should be implemented. Being part of a fish tagging project gave me invaluable exposure to specialised techniques used in fish ecology and management projects. I was also able to advance my skills in netting, zodiac driving and safe fish handling which are important for work in this field and my own research project.

Man with with migratory Arctic charr Woman with with migratory Arctic charr  Woman with with migratory Arctic charr

Figure 1: Left to right: Guttorm Christensen, Jenny Jensen and myself with migratory Arctic charr that were tagged and released in Grøntsford, Svalbard.

On return to Norway, I spent the following two months in Tromsø mainly based at the Akvaplan office. I assisted on fieldwork excursions, including long term monitoring of biological conditions within a nearby fjord and a salmon monitoring project. The latter involved electro-fishing for juvenile salmon along two river systems where the populations have been severely impacted by a freshwater parasite, the salmon fluke. This fieldwork gave me some fantastic experience in electro-fishing, and species ID of juvenile salmon, trout and charr, as well as an understanding of fish-parasite interactions and the management of parasite outbreaks. During my time in Tromsø I was also able to retrieve further samples for my own project.

Akvaplan is situated within the Fram Centre, Tromsø alongside the likes of the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Arctic Council, the Institute of Marine Research and NINA (The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research). This gave me the opportunity to network with researchers in other institutions and improve my scientific communication. In addition, I had meetings at the University of Tromsø (UiT) with key researchers in my field and presented my own work in a seminar series for the University’s Freshwater Ecology Group. The links established through Akvaplan and UiT will be incredibly valuable as I move forward as an early career researcher, and I am very grateful to everyone that made this placement possible.

Zooplankton sampling electro-fishing for salmon a juvenile salmon from Skibotn

Figure 2: Left to right: Zooplankton sampling as part of a long-term monitoring project in Ullsfjorden, electro-fishing for salmon in Skitbotn, and a juvenile salmon from Skibotn.


Click here to see Ellie Ward's Durham ARCTIC Student Profile.