by Pam Chamberlain, submitted 2015
When administrators at Bermuda’s international airport needed to upgrade the approach lighting system, there was only one option: build new platforms in the ocean. However, driving steel piles into an environmentally sensitive bay would disturb not only seagrass beds but also creatures such as green turtles, queen conch, whales, and coral reefs, and terrestrial species like the Bermuda skink and petrel—all endangered species. The airport needed a construction plan that met regulatory requirements and minimized impact to these species and their habitats. That’s where Joël Gervais came in.
Last winter, Joël, a biologist and environmental scientist at Associated Engineering in Edmonton, spent a month researching Bermuda’s environmental regulatory framework and coastal ecology. He completed regulatory and environmental impact assessments for the project and weighed the environmental sensitivities against the construction needs to create a construction plan that would mitigate environmental impacts.
“It was an interesting challenge,” Joël recalls. “I had to apply my usual freshwater ecology and construction knowledge to a marine and coastal environment, learn about marine biology, and teach myself about cetaceans, coral reefs, coastal reptiles, and marine chemistry.”
Joël first got his feet wet as a biology student taking samples and measurements in Stony Creek, Miquelon Lake, the Sturgeon River, and ravines south of Camrose. “Our professors took us into the field to apply what we’d learned in the classroom,” he explains. “The hands-on experience was invaluable.” He credits Dr. Hood, Dr. Hvenegaard, Dr. Audet, and Dr. Hallstrom for kindling his desire and drive for ongoing learning and application of knowledge in everyday scenarios.
“Between my experience at Augustana and summer jobs,” Joël says, “I received a broad education and practical experience. I wasn’t pigeonholed into one field or task, and I got a good introduction to many environmental topics. Our professors encouraged us to teach ourselves and direct our own research topics. That was a blessing for me because I now use those skills every day in my career.”
Joël loves the challenge of developing innovative solutions to environmental problems. He is now consulting on projects in Edmonton including bridges and other transportation infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas. He is involved in projects throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and the national parks. His work often includes planning and assessment for construction and reclamation where sensitive fish, wildlife, and plants are involved.
As new environmental protection policies are implemented, companies and governments need help finding new ways to operate that meet or exceed regulations. “Environmental degradation is no longer an accepted cost of doing business,” Joël explains, “and many of the new policies are creating new challenges. We take on many one-off projects with unique problems, and come up with solutions that haven’t been tried before. These projects force us to be creative and broaden our team's palette of practices, designs, and advice, which are applied to the next challenge. As an environmental scientist, I wear many different hats, and I am always learning. Augustana prepared me for that.”