Esteban Gongora

Student Speaker | Étudiant.e
Reduction of sea ice coverage in the sea ice in recent years across the Canadian Arctic has led to higher shipping activity for most types of vessels navigating Canadian Arctic waters. Expected increases in shipping across the Arctic may pose a danger of collision and shipwreck along with the possibility that a fuel spill will wash up on Arctic beaches. This could lead to health risks for the ecosystem and the nearby indigenous communities. Hydrocarbon contamination can be removed by many methods, but due to the logistical difficulties of carrying a fuel cleanup in remote areas of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the remediation options become limited. The use of the native microbial communities present in beach sediments, known as natural attenuation, has the potential to be the most feasible remediation solution. We surveyed beaches located along the Northwest Passage by describing the microbial communities that natively inhabit these sites. Our results show that microbes possessing genes related to fuel degradation are present on Arctic beaches in small proportions, even before any contact with a spill has taken place. This is of great importance for developing an appropriate bioremediation strategy as these microbes have the potential to reproduce and thrive once a spill occurs in their native environment. In vitro and controlled in situ experiments still need to be performed to determine if the potential we observed will be translated into degradation under the cold and harsh conditions that characterize the beaches of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.