Meet Samantha Scott, Raincoast’s new Water Quality Coordinator

Sam has joined our team to advance Raincoast’s Healthy Waters community water pollution monitoring initiative.

Sam has joined our Healthy Waters Program team as a Water Quality Coordinator. She assists Dr. Peter Ross in the implementation of community-based research into water quality in various watersheds around southern British Columbia. 

Sam received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Simon Fraser University. While studying at SFU she had the opportunity to attend field school at Bamfield Marine Science Centre where a lifelong love for aquatic ecosystems solidified into a passion for research. This led to three successive seasons working as a Field Technician on Raincoast’s Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program

Her research interests include studying anthropogenic impacts on aquatic ecosystems and understanding how changes in policy implementation can be used to preserve these ecosystems for future generations.

We posed some questions to Samantha to help you get to know her and give you a look at what she will be working on in the next few months.

Can you please share more about your background and how you got into this field?

I grew up in the Fraser Valley, where I spent much of my spare time in the woods playing next to a salmon-bearing stream. I credit a lot of my interest in salmon to my elementary school teacher, Ms. LaRose, who was passionate about science and went out of her way to bring science into the classroom at any chance. We were dissecting salmon in 3rd and 4th grade! She was also an advocate for salmon, and ensured our class participated in the Salmon-In-Schools Program. Like many kids, I began telling anyone who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up that I was going to be a marine biologist. 

By the time I reached university I had become disillusioned – many people had told me that there was no money or jobs working in marine biology or environmental science in general. I had an aunt who had worked in marine biology tell me of how horribly boring her job had been – counting plankton under a microscope – before she returned to school to pursue dentistry. Once again, the time spent with passionate teachers and researchers in university pulled me back and convinced me that this was the career I wanted to pursue. I find the people who are drawn to do this work so inspiring and count myself lucky to have found such great friends and mentors along the way.

Also just to note: I have since spent lots of time counting and identifying plankton under microscopes and I love it!

Can you tell us more about your experience at Bamfield Marine Science Centre?

Going to field school at BMSC was a life-changing experience for me. Early mornings, long field days, months long immersion into research, and approaching the world through a scientific lens with a group of like-minded people was inspiring. I’ve always been a tidal-pool junkie – but this was my first time hanging around in a crowd of people who would all lose their minds over a really interesting intertidal invertebrate or a new species of kelp. It also firmly cemented the “field work bug” in me, which is what led me to seek out the volunteer opportunity with Raincoast’s Lower Fraser Salmon project. So, suffice to say that my time at Bamfield Marine Science Center is one of the pivotal experiences in my life that put me on the path to where I am today as Water Quality Coordinator for the Healthy Waters Program.

What does the next six months look like for you in your role as Water Quality Coordinator?

The next six months will see the start of the first sampling season of our Healthy Waters Initiative; this means a lot of time spent planning, taking care of logistical issues like supplies and data sheets, and building relationships with our Watershed Partners in various locations throughout southern BC. We are also working on the design and set up for our mobile lab, Tracker, which we hope to have in operation in early 2024. We are looking to utilize some interesting mobile water quality analysis technologies. So right now a lot of time is also being spent researching new devices and their potential applications in our attempts to bring high resolution data regarding water quality and pollutants to watershed communities. 

We understand that you live on your boat. How has the experience of living on the water been for you? 

It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. There are few things better than looking out my window in the morning to watch the river run, and hearing the waves against the hull. It’s been a huge learning curve – going from living in rentals in the city to an old-fixer upper of a boat. When I bought it, it leaked horribly and I’m still in the process of replacing the roof. It’s been a real test of my abilities and I’ve learned much more about electrical systems, fiberglassing, carpentry, and engine maintenance than I bargained for in the beginning. It has also been a great lesson in living small. It’s around 300 square feet inside – and even coming from a small rental suite I had to downsize. I’m also much more aware of my water and power consumption. Being on the river and so close to nature has made me even more mindful of the impacts of human activities on the environment. 

On a personal level, why is this work important to you?

Living on the river is beautiful, but it’s also hard to escape the fact that the Fraser is an industrial river. I’m woken up in the night by the wake from vessel activities, like floating buildings being brought up the channel. There is a concrete plant to the west, and a fine dust that settles on my boat’s hull and brightwork that needs to be constantly cleaned. It’s not uncommon to find an oily sheen on the water from a little oil or gas dripped out of a jerry can by a clumsy neighbor filling their tank. It’s hard not to imagine the impacts these activities have on the river and the organisms that call it home. 

I think it is very easy to brush off scary subjects like pollution when so little is currently known about how many pollutants are present in our environment, food, drinking water, and how they are impacting the plants and animals we love – and by extension our own health. Some problems feel “too big” to worry about, which leads many people to push them into the back of their minds. I believe that knowledge and understanding have the power to demystify the fears that people have surrounding pollution, and point to tangible changes that can be made to reduce the risks to animal and human health posed by environmental contamination.

Water connects us all. I believe that through Healthy Waters, we can shine a light on these issues and empower communities to better advocate for, and protect, the waterways that we and so many other organisms depend on.

You can help

Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.

Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.