Freshwater Science with Riparia, on the Poisson Blanc

Latest update December 14, 2020 Started on April 10, 2019

Riparia brought 10 diverse young Canadian women on a five-day canoe expedition to the Poisson Blanc Regional Park in August 2019 to learn about freshwater science, and help document the status of local freshwater ecosystems.

April 10, 2019
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In The Field

On our last morning out on Poisson Blanc reservoir, we paddled (and sang!) our way back to where our journey began. When we arrived, we were greeted by a truly amazing cultural carrier, Suzanne Keeptwo. She, guided us through a powerful reflection circle where we shared how we were inspired and what we learned about ourselves along the four directions: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically.
Together we realized that there are so many different ways to learn, experience, and grow in this world. One thing we for sure all had in common was our deep gratitude to the land, water, and everyone who has taken care of them before us. Miigwetch!

This expedition took place on traditional, ancestral & unceded Anishinaabe territory.

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On our last full day together, we looked way down underwater and way up at the night sky.
In the morning, we pulled out a new toy - an underwater drone camera! Everyone took turns piloting the drone and exploring a new perspective of the underwater world we have been paddling on all week. We even managed to get footage of some forage fish hiding among the rocks! As the sun began to set, we realized we had been gifted with an incredibly clear night. We brought out the telescopes and turned our eyes upwards towards the moon and the stars. Laying down together, we shared wonder, awe, and stories. Some of us witnessed the Milky Way for the first time! It was a perfect way to spend our last night together, reminiscing on our experience, hoping for the future, and feeling connected by the stars.

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For the third day of our 2019 expedition, we pulled out a series of water quality monitoring tools to take measurements directly on the water (such as the oxygen availability, temperature, depth, and turbidity of the water), as well as to bring water samples back to a field lab that we set up at our campsite. We used chemistry to help us document the acidity of the water, the amount of nutrients found in the water, the minerals dissolved in the water, and more! Overall, the water quality on the Poisson Blanc seems excellent, but we’ll have to go back and take samples at several different locations to paint a complete picture of water quality in this beautiful freshwater ecosystem. We’re already scheming up ways to do this on our next expedition!

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On day 2 of Riparia’s 2019 canoe-camping journey, we paddled 5 kilometers to a stream that feeds into the Poisson Blanc Lake (which is in fact a reservoir). We stopped there to learn about the hundreds of species of tiny insects that live on and under the rocks found in streams. Some of these critters, like the freshwater crayfish we found, are big enough to see with the naked eye, and catch with your bare hands. Others, like the larvae of blackflies, had to be examined using a microscope. Magnifying by 40X sure gives you new perspective into the immense diversity of life living in the bottoms of streams around the world!

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National Geographic recently announced that Open Explorer is migrating to a new website so there will be some delays in our anticipated updates. We'll be back with the rest of our expedition stories just as soon as we can!

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing one post per week, in which we’ll tell the story of a highlight from each day of our 2019 expedition. On day 1 of Riparia’s 2019 canoe-camping journey, we jumped right into freshwater science by first dissecting and then filleting four largemouth bass caught in a local lake. We learned that like scuba divers, fish use air as a floatation device to move up and down the water column. They have a special organ called the swim bladder that is filled with air, which allows them to control their buoyancy. *All below photos by Mikayla Wujec

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Riparia is back from it’s inaugural expedition and we had an AMAZING five days out on the water! We will be sharing stories from each day of our expedition here later this month. Stay tuned.


It's almost time to hit the water for the Riparia inaugural expedition!

As we work on final preparations, making sure all our gear is ready is a key job. Here, we've laid out most of the equipment we'll be using on the trip. Can't wait to see it all packed up and ready to hit the water in our canoes next week!


Safety is an important part of every expedition. Because Riparia works on the water, we are specifically preparing ourselves for water safety. This past week, one of Riparia’s co-founders and resident scientists, Dalal Hanna, attended an intensive four-day training with Boreal River experts to brush up on herwhite water rescue techniques. On the Upper Gatineau River and the Desert River in Quebec, Canada, she learned how to safely swim through rapids, use ropes on the water, recover canoes wrapped around rocks using the power of physics and pulley systems, and so much more. These skills are essential to learning and playing on the water, and will ensure that our inaugural expedition will flow smoothly and safely.

Spending time on the water certainly got the Riparia team excited about their upcoming expedition! We’re looking forward to being on the water the August.

Photos and videos by Arndell Leblanc

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There’s nothing quite like getting a knock at your door to let you know that your shipment of sponsored gear has just arrived, and to walk out and see there is so much equipment and supplies being delivered that it has to be transported on a pallet!!

With our August expedition fast approaching, Riparia is starting to gather up gear, equipment and supplies to help us move through our freshwater expedition safely and comfortably. The list of things we need runs long; – tents, water quality measuring equipment, food barrels, binoculars, tarps, notebooks, sleeping bags, maps… the list goes on and on. A big shout out to all the companies and organizations who are stepping up to help us out! We now have all the camping equipment we need for this expedition, and we’re so excited to put it to the test!

Stay tuned as we continue to get ready for our maiden expedition!


One of the key parts of preparing for an expedition is making sure everyone will be safe In March, one of our founders and resident scientists, Dalal, recertified her Wilderness First Responder course to brush up her first aid skills, in preparation for Riparia’s Maiden Expedition in August. Over 80 hours of training, she practiced important wilderness first aid skills like wound-cleaning, scene management, stabilizing bone injuries and much more. She left the course knowing that the best first aid strategy is prevention. Riparia will always prioritize prevention by thinking about safety first - guides and program participants have all the proper equipment to be outdoors, guides assess the safety of every new location they arrive to, and are always thinking about how to minimize risk. Still, Riparia’s co-found was happy to have walked away from the course with the skills required to stabilize a wide array of medical issues that can happen on an expedition.

One of the most interesting parts of the course for her was learning about dislocations. A dislocation is painful, so, if possible, getting the bone back into place quick can really help reduce harm. One of the most interesting dislocation relocation techniques she learned was the Cunningham. The below video shows how a little strategic messaging can help get a shoulder back into place in just a few minutes!

Amazing, right?! Of course, like anything, this doesn’t always work and you wouldn’t want to try it on your own without proper training, but it is definitely a handy technique to learn about. If you want to find out more about expedition first aid, consider taking a wilderness first aid course - you surely won’t be disappointed!

In the below picture Riparia co-founder Dalal Hanna and other course attendees practicing making a thermowrap. This is useful way to carry out a person from a wilderness context while keeping them warm.


With our expedition coming up in August, we're busy preparing! This past weekend we plotted out our plan to collect information about water quality during our expedition. Check out this short clip to get a glimpse into our planning process!


National Geographic has always supported the use of amazing new tools and technology to do science. This year, through their Science Education Exploration Initiative, they are gifting out a ton of Open ROV Tridents for explorers to use in their research and explorations. What is an ROV? The acronym is short for remotely operated vehicle; but these aren’t just any remotely operated vehicles, they are ones that can go underwater to allow us to see and understand what goes on beneath the surface. As an organization that does all of our work in freshwater ecosystems, we think this is both really cool and super important. Often people don’t think of freshwater systems as places with great visibility, so the idea of using an underwater camera in a lake isn’t necessarily intuitive. But check out the below picture of a lake called “Lac Vert” (i.e. Green Lake), that is just a few kilometers aways from the Poisson Blanc Regional Park, which we’ll be traveling to this summer with Riparia. ...Not a very good picture (taken years ago without the idea of posting it here as none of us have travelled there in a quite some time!), but... do you see how crazy green and clear the edge looks? Many part of this lake are SO GREEN and so clear. You can often see all the way to the bottom of it from your canoe!

We would love to use an ROV to explore the depths of this lake with the youth participating in our programs. Can you imagine how exciting it would be for our participants (young women aged 14-16, who typically don’t have access to outdoor programming) to snap underwater photos of a clear, Canadian lake? We’d also really love to work with the youth on our programs to take underwater photos that would allow us to monitor lake-bottom change over time. This kind of monitoring isn’t necessarily all that common in freshwater ecosystems, but really important here in Canada where a number of invasive algae are starting to take over numerous freshwater ecosystems, including some close to the Poisson Blanc Regional Park. One example of an invasive algae present in our region is the Spiked Water Milfoil - it actually gave nightmares to one of Riparia’s co-founders after she found last year that one of her favourite childhood lakes is practically no longer swimmable because of it (booo!!!). Catching and controlling these algae early can make the difference between having a lake with regular levels of oxygen or levels that are way too low for fish and other native biodiversity to survive. Utilizing cool technology like ROVs to help do that monitoring is the way of the future!

Expedition Background

We, Dalal, Andrea and Mikayla, are passionate about freshwater. We love lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. We grew up playing in these ecosystems. In Canada, where we're from, there is lots of freshwater; but, it is unfortunately quite threatened. There's a decline in the biodiversity found in freshwater ecosystems, the amount of water found in our rivers is diminishing, and the quality of water is affected by all kinds of pollution.
Each of us dedicates large parts of our lives toward helping to protect freshwater ecosystems. Mikayla works as an environmental consultant. Dalal and Andrea are both freshwater scientists currently working on PhD degrees, doing research that helps improve our understanding of these ecosystems and how to take better care of them.

Although science can provide the information required to come up with strategies to better protect freshwater ecosystems, it's not sufficient on it's own. It also takes people that care about lakes and rivers, as well as the science going on. This is why we decided to start Riparia, a new female led Canadian not-for-profit that works to connect youth to science on the water. We bring youth on free multi-day canoe-camping expeditions in remote parts of Canada's beautiful freshwater network to learn about freshwater science, and participate in scientific data collection. Together, we explore what lakes and rivers are, what science can teach us about them, and work to collect data that will allow us to better understand and manage freshwater ecosystems in Canada.

In August 2019, funded by a National Geographic Society grant, Riparia will host it's maiden expedition. We're bringing 10 diverse young Canadian women to the Poisson Blanc Regional park where we'll spend five days on the water documenting the status of local freshwater ecosystems, and learning about freshwater science. Through our programming, we work to foster a next generation of science champions and love and value freshwater ecosystems.

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