Agent-based modelling of recreational boating in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay River (Québec, Canada) to mitigate their impacts on belugas and baleen whales

Goal : This project aims at developing a spatially explicit agent-based model of recreational boating in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay River (Québec, Canada) to mitigate impacts such as underwater noise, collision, and disturbance on the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga and baleen whales populations.

Description :The St. Lawrence Estuary belugapopulation is currently listed as an endangered species under the Species At Risk Act (Canada) and the Act Respecting Threatened and Vulnerable Species (Québec). Other endangered species frequently observed in the St. Lawrence Estuary include the North Atlantic blue and fin whales. Several threats to the recovery of these whale species are coming from the navigation activities occurring in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay River such as animal exposure to underwater noise emitted by surrounding boats, disturbance/harassment, and collisions. Such navigation activities as maritime shipping, ferries and whale-watching excursions are well-documented largely due to AIS data. However, recreational boating in the summer habitat of the St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga is poorly documented with scarce data available. Moreover, no methodology has been proposed so far to monitor recreational boating activities and estimate their impacts on whales.

This project will first focus on making a quantitative portrait of recreational boating in the summer habitat of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population (thereafter referred to as beluga). This portrait will include a characterization of the fleet, spatial distribution, temporal variability, along with a description of the spatiotemporal dynamics of boater excursions. This project will also allow to identify the main archetypes of recreational boaters along with their decision-making models that will be implemented in an agent-based model. The agent-based model will be used to assess the cumulative impacts of recreational boating on whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay River and propose mitigation options. The model will also allow to project the impacts of boaters’ eco-friendly behaviors on whales.

Throughout this project, the PhD student will propose and conduct several data campaigns using different qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data on various objects at different scales (e.g. remote sensing, aerial surveys, GPS tracks, semi-supervised interviews, Q-methodology, questionnaires…). First, the student will develop a methodology and deploy it to characterize the fleet of recreational boats along with the spatiotemporal dynamics of their excursions throughout the summer habitat of beluga whales. Thereafter, the student will propose and implement a method to characterize the behavior and the decision-making process of recreational boaters at sea in order to define archetypes. For each archetype of recreational boater, the student will thus propose a conceptual model of behaviors and decisions including their interactions with whales. The results of these inquiries will be implemented into a spatially explicit agent-based model. The student will then elaborate a validation procedure of the agent-based model of boaters’ behaviors. Finally, the validated model of recreational boaters will be integrated into a spatiotemporal simulator of boat-whale interactions in the Saguenay River and the St. Lawrence Estuary. This simulator will be used to assess the relative contribution of each navigation component to the overall impacts on the St. Lawrence whales and to test the effectiveness of various mitigation scenarios.

Context: The ideal candidate will show dynamism, motivation, determination, intellectual curiosity and creativity, ability to work independently and as part of a team, along with a great sense of initiative. He/She will need to travel regularly to the Saguenay and the St. Lawrence Estuary region for data collection. He/She will be encouraged and supported to travel for scientific communications (conferences, workshops), meetings with partners and stakeholders. He/She will be part of a dynamic multidisciplinary research team and will benefit from support for different parts of his/her project. The project being funded by the Government of Quebec, the selected candidate will be required to contribute to the production of deliverables for various ministries.

Requirements: The candidate must possess a Master degree in Geography, Environmental sciences or any discipline relevant to the project. He/She must demonstrate relevant experience in modelling, statistics, and in the use of qualitative methods (e.g. interviews). The candidate must demonstrate proficiency in scientific communication (oral and written) to experts and laypeople, including writing scientific articles and conducting literature reviews, both in French and English. The candidate must demonstrate a dedication to excellence supported by academic records making him/her eligible to provincial and national scholarship competitions.

Assets: Experience in the following fields will be considered to be assets:

– GIS, spatial analysis, and spatial statistics;

– Agent-based modelling;

– Cognitive psychology and study of human decision-making processes;

– Object-oriented programming;

– Software and programming language: R, QGIS, Java, Python.

Start date: January 2020

 Scholarship: 25 000$/yr for 3 years

 Location : Ripon (Québec, Canada)

 Director: Prof. Jérôme Dupras (UQO-ISFORT)

 Co-director: Prof.Clément Chion (UQO-ISFORT)

 Collaborators: Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), University of Victoria, Parks Canada, Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Réseau d’observation des mammifères marins (ROMM).

Application :

  • Email your academic CV (long form), application letter (detailing your skills and assets related to the project requirements), official academic transcripts (Bachelor and Master), and the name and contact information of 3 academic references to Pr. Clément Chion ([email protected]), Pr. Jérôme Dupras ([email protected]), and Robert Michaud ([email protected]);
  • Deadline: September 15th 2019, or until the position is filled.
News - 23/7/2019

Marie-Ève Muller

Marie-Ève Muller is responsible for GREMM's communications and spokeperson for the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergencies Response Network (QMMERN). As Editor-in-Chief for Whales Online, she devours research and has an insatiable thirst for the stories of scientists and observers. Drawing from her background in literature and journalism, Marie-Ève strives to put the fragile reality of cetaceans into words and images.

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