The Bras d’Or Institute for Ecosystem Research

The research activities of the Bras d’Or Institute focus on how best to operationalize ecosystem-based management of human activities within the maritime communities of Cape Breton. The Institute partners widely with all levels of government, NGOs and the private sector.  One such project was the Bras d’Or Lakes Biosphere Reserve.

University Research Chair in Marine Ecosystem Management

On June 29, 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the “Bras d’Or Lakes Biosphere Reserve” a member of a global program in which humans and nature strive to co-exist in health and prosperity. “UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program is all about the challenge of balancing ecological and economic sustainability in modern societies,” says Dr. Bruce G. Hatcher, Chair in Marine Ecosystem Research at CBU. Bruce played a significant role in the Bras d’Or Lakes achieving the designation. As Director of the Bras d’Or Institute at CBU, he began working with the Biosphere Reserve Association in 2006. Jim Foulds, former biology professor at CBU and founding member of the Association taught Bruce about the importance of the Bras d’Or Lakes project and the designation they hoped to achieve. With the support of President John Harker, Bruce became a member of the Board of Directors that year, and continues to serve on behalf of the University under the chairmanship of Dr. Teresa MacNeil, holder of a Honourary Degree from CBU.

Chapel Island

Chapel Island


There was plenty of work to be done to get the Bras d’Or Lakes nominated for a Man and Biosphere Reserve designation. “Work included educating ourselves, our clients in five levels of government, and the people of Cape Breton about what a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve is and is not,” says Bruce. The main project that he worked on was the nomination document which was over 300 pages and required very precise research and several rounds of feedback from the Ottawa and Paris offices of the UNESCO. As one of four editors of the document, Bruce had his own assignment; “My section [of the document] dealt with the natural history of the estuary, including its fisheries, ecology and oceanography. I drew six other members of the CBU faculty into the writing process to write sections according to their areas of expertise,” he says.

Cape Breton has some resilient and productive ecosystems, and being part of the Man and Biosphere Program is an asset to our community. “It will help us to think about what we really want as a society, and to look both inwards and outwards to find best practices, unique examples and our own creative solutions to the problem of reconciling the principle of community economic development with the laws of ecology,” says Bruce.



A Man and Biosphere Reserve in our community provides new opportunities for applied and multidisciplinary research that appeal to Bruce. “Researchers will ask questions that, in concert with the broader communities of vocation, residence and interest in the Bras d’Or estuary and its watershed could fruitfully be addressed in the context of the Biosphere Reserve. What is the nature of the conversation between the land, where people live, and the ocean, where marine resources live? What is the value of the ecosystem goods and services provided by the Bras d’Or estuary to the people of Cape Breton?” In his experience, the designation of a Man and Biosphere Reserve draws funding for research and industry alike, resulting in new research facilities, working visits by researchers and entrepreneurs, work experience and stipends for students.

The Biosphere Reserve Association has achieved its first goal with the UNESCO designation, but that doesn’t mean Bruce will stop working in the Bras d’Or ecosystem anytime soon. “I envision an extremely effective partnership with the collaborative environmentalplanning initiative (CEPI) for the Bras d’Or ecosystem. On a subject close to my own research interests, I imagine an ecosystem research facility on the Barra Strait in Iona, operated as a partnership between CBU, Central Cape Breton Community Ventures and private sector corporations with a long term commitment to economic development in the Bras d’Or Lakes.”

Whether he is examining emerging fishery options, collaborating on ethical seal harvest techniques, mapping the floor of the Bras d’Or Lakes, or providing estimates of ecosystem goods and services to port development officials, Dr. Hatcher observes evidence of how human activities are affecting marine and coastal ecosystems.

The primary objective of Dr. Hatcher’s work is to provide Industry and Government with high quality, scientific information so that better management decisions can be made regarding how our marine resources are utilized. He currently focuses on the development and application of tools such as remote sensing, and/or numerical modeling for management decision support in coastal ecosystems.