Spotlight: Emilie Novaczek

Portugal Cove beach end of the season clean up and animal release at a Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium event

Emilie Novaczek

Ph.D. Candidate, Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland




Emilie’s Bio

Emilie is a student researcher and scientific diver for a catch-and-release mini aquarium in Petty Harbour, NL.  She is also a  Ph.D. Candidate with Memorial University’s Marine Geomatics Research Lab and has a track record of using GIS  for marine research. Among her accomplishments, Emilie has been recognized for her undergraduate research project at the Elizabeth May Chair Research Symposium and at the Dalhousie Sustainable Oceans Conference (CBC News, Aug 19, 2013.)  In 2017, Emilie’s work   on ” High resolution habitat mapping to describe coastal denning habitat of a Canadian species at risk, Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus)” was published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.


Emilie diving to collect animals for the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium in Logy Bay

Q. What project(s) have you worked on that you are most proud of?

“A few years ago I was working with the Seaflower Marine Protected Area in San Andres, Colombia. I was studying the impact of tourism & recreation on shallow coral reefs. The project was designed to meet an important data gap for managers: little information existed about how the MPA was being used for non-fishing activities. My research involved participatory mapping with tourism operators and SCUBA surveys of coral health and biodiversity. It was an incredible opportunity to work in the community and on the water. By mapping recreational activity types within the MPA boundaries and impact on reefs, managers were able to efficiently allocate resources (like targeted educational materials/incentives) while fostering a constructive relationship with communities and businesses who use and enjoy the Seaflower.”


Q. Your Atlantic wolffish mapping project using high-resolution multibeam data and seafloor video sounds interesting. How did you get involved in this project? 

“The wolffish is what brought me to Newfoundland! The Atlantic Wolffish is protected by the Canadian Species at Risk Act as a species of special concern, which requires management of the species and its habitat. However, very little information existed about important habitats for population recovery. The project was partnered with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The way that we map marine habitats (with sound!) fascinated me, so the opportunity to map seafloor habitats for conservation of a species at risk was too good to miss!”


At Smith Sound, Emilie is setting up a drop camera to collect video of the seafloor for a marine habitat mapping project

Q. Can you tell me about a typical day in your life as a graduate researcher at Memorial University of Newfoundland? 

“These day I’m working up some seafloor data for the Newfoundland shelf, building and refining predictive models of seafloor substrate. It’s exciting to see patterns emerge from the data and really satisfying to produce a beautiful and useful map at the same time. But my favourite place to be is in the field. For my research, field work mostly consists of collecting seafloor video and sediment samples – it’s pretty cool to be able to take a peek under the waves and maybe see some Atlantic white-sided dolphins or a leatherback turtle along the way. ”

Drop camera


Q. Do you have any women role models? How have they inspired you?

“There are so many incredible women working in spatial ecology and seafloor mapping; Dr. Dawn Wright, chief scientist at ESRI and ocean mapper; Dr. Kerry Howell, a leader in deep sea coral mapping; Dr. Jane Elith, a spatial ecologist who’s R code I use every day; Dr. Anna Metaxas and Dr. Elizabeth de Santo, incredible professors I was lucky to have during my undergraduate; Dr. Carissa Brown, a brilliant spatial ecologist in my department here at MUN; and of course, my mother, a marine phycologist and the original Dr. Novaczek.


Q. What’s your favorite GIS tool or app?

“I use R every day, and the online R community is amazing – day or night there is an answer for any question and advice for any challenge you meet. I also love Dr. Cynthia Brewer’s colour brewer  and I use it for almost every map I make.”


Q. Do you have a favorite GIS convention?

“Yes! The GeoHab Marine Geological and Biological Habitat Mapping conference. Marine habitat mapping is a relatively small field, so each meeting is a little like a family reunion.


Q. How do you spend your free time?

“We are lucky in Newfoundland to have the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium – a catch-and-release aquarium that brings the ocean to eye level and showcases local biodiversity. I volunteer with the aquarium as a scientific diver (for collections and release) and as an aquarium interpreter.”


Q. When not at work, what do you do for fun?

“I spend a lot of time with my dog on the beautiful East Coast Trail and I get out SCUBA diving any time I can. The water is cold, but the diving in Newfoundland is beautiful! Vibrant coralline algae, soft corals, skates, wolffish – there is lots to see!”


Q. What GIS/spatial project did you work on this past year you want everyone to know about?

MUN Geography awareness week Arctic Alive giant floor map

“This year we did some work in the Eastport Marine Protected Area – by mapping benthic communities and biodiversity, we were able to compare the protected habitats to the MPA’s management goals. As Canada moves towards our goal of 10% marine protected by 2020, this kind of research is more important. What we protect, and where we protect is just as important as reaching 10% coverage.”


Interviewed by: Denise Wesley

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