Dive into inland waters centre phenomenal


Staff member
Feb 15, 2004
The Beach Strip
Posted with permission from the Hamilton Spectator

Jun 17, 2017 by Jeff Mahoney 
Hamilton Spectator

What would it take for you to go swimming in Hamilton's notorious Randle Reef, that horrible blob (enough to fill three arenas) of toxic sludge and sediment in the harbour?

For David Gray, it was all in a day's work.

He's an operations officer diving for Environment Canada, and he poked around the reef under water in special scuba diving equipment as part of the research into the environmental sore spot.

I shook his hand, then thinking about where he's been, pulled away in mock disgust. "Too late now," he joked.

One of many fascinating people — scientists, researchers, enforcement officers, emergency commanders — I met Friday at the spectacular open house at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters. It continues Saturday.

I met officers with guns who go after the kind of people who hunt musk oxen with snow machines, tiring the animals out then shooting them like fish in a barrel. I met a woman who heads up a CCIW team fiercely trying to protect Canadian borders from a terrible American immigrant menace — Asian carp.

The CCIW, built 1972, is that lonely, mysterious building, under halos of seagulls, jutting into the harbour on its own peninsular spit by Eastport Drive/Lakeshore Road under the Skyway.

I've always wondered what goes on there. At the open house, CCIW's first in 25 years, I found out, as did hundreds of others, many of them students, from all over, busloads.

It's phenomenal. You owe it to yourself to go. There's a big water tank where diver Corey Treen swam, with elaborate mask and oxygen apparatus, vacuuming materials from the tank bottom with a suction device. It's what he'd do on the job, "benthic" studies, taking samples at the bottoms of lakes and rivers. Visitors could speak to him on the Scuba Phone and remotely-operated equipment.

Outside the tank, fellow divers Carl Yanch and Adam Morden told me there are parts of the Great Lakes literally carpeted with zebra mussels. Among other things, they study levels of (and solutions to) algae and phosphates, zebra mussels, goby fish and other contributors to "dead zones" and penetration of light into the water.

The centre employs about 700 for Environment Canada and Department of Fisheries.

The wildlife enforcement officers staffed an impressive display, featuring big taxidermy of a tiger, polar bear, musk ox, and tables with alligator shoes, fur coats, even an electric guitar with a Brazilian rosewood fret board, confiscated for violating regulations.

Lonny Coote, wildlife enforcement regional director, says his team can run into rough customers, which is why they're armed. Sadly, the money involved in the trade of endangered animal parts is enormous. A rhinoceros horn on the table sells for $220,000.

All through, there are terrific exhibits and experts to talk about them. There's an impressive 120-metre-long water pool, or tank, for testing for current calibration meters that Bob Rowsell explained to me.

Matt Graham and Roger Santiago anatomized the $140-million Randle Reef containment project, beautifully modelled in Lego, a bright spot in our environmental prognosis.

Becky Cudmore is manager of the Asian carp program, hunting out an invasive fish species that utterly alters ecosystems if allowed to multiply. Fortunately, only 23 have been identified in Ontario. In the U.S., their misbegotten introduction (to control aqua culture) resulted in disaster.

"As soon as we spot one, we go into emergency response. It's dead serious. All other work stops. Even my title changes. I become 'incident commander.'" In their electro boats, they capture the fish with curtains of netting and electric impulses in the water.

I also met Travis Borchuk, captain of coast guard boat Limnos, and people who research the effect of oilsands on water bodies; Arctic pollutants in seals and fish; so much else.

Including, of course, the CCIW's mascot robot, built in situ in the 1970s — RU4H2O.

All in all, a must-experience opportunity in one of the city's greatest resources. The students were so engrossed they ignored their cellphones. Please catch it.


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