Governor General Gold Medalist: Colin Forsythe

November 1, 2017
Governor General Academic Medal

For several generations, Colin Forsythe’s family has tied their lives to the sea. So, it is not a surprise that his research would reflect his ancestral passion and concern for the water around his home province of New Brunswick.

Forsythe’s thesis, The Quantification of Microplastics in Intertidal Sediments in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, is the first study to investigate the concentration and distribution of microplastics in the bay’s tides. The research was part of his Master of Science in Environment and Management studies at Royal Roads.

“The topic had come up in news reports, but no research was being done in Atlantic Canada other than in Halifax harbour,” he says. “For my preliminary work, I took sediment samples at the Bay of Fundy and quickly found pieces of plastic. This confirmed the direction for my thesis.”

Royal Roads will recognize Forsythe’s work with a Governor General’s Gold Medal for the most outstanding thesis or graduate project at the university’s fall convocation ceremony on Nov. 9.

His research found that microplastic fibres—the majority from synthetic ropes, netting and textiles used by the fishing industry—are widespread along the New Brunswick coastline.

For Forsythe, the data and results of the study are intended to create a conversation between regulators, scientists, the fishing industry and local stakeholders on the challenges posed by this kind of plastic pollution in the Bay of Fundy’s ecosystem.

“If we’re not talking about the problem, we’re not looking for solutions,” says Forsythe. “We can do this better.”

Forsythe is no stranger to promoting saltwater ecosystems and lobbying government in order to change people’s minds. In the past, he worked with an environmental group, Atlantic Coastal Action Program, to stop the dumping of raw sewage into Saint John Harbour.

“One of the ways to get projects done is by engaging with policy makers and making sure there is political will,” says Forsythe. “We really need to be able to take grassroots concerns and apply science to them, then work with legislators to move these issues forward.”

Forsythe comes from a long line of fishermen from Grand Manan Island, the largest island in the Bay of Fundy. All of them made their livelihood from the sea.

“I’ve always been around the water,” he says. “When I look outside, I see the Kennebecasis River just 300 feet in front of my house.”

It is fitting the river should play a part in honouring Forsythe’s latest academic achievement. When he received the envelop containing his master’s degree from Royal Roads, he naturally headed to the water.

“I sat down on a pink plastic chair that I had fished out of the river and glued together and opened the package.”

As for receiving the Governor General’s Gold Medal, Forsythe describes the honour as “icing on the cake.”

“My time at Royal Roads was one of the best experiences in my life,” he says. “It’s humbling to get selected for this award.”

The next step for Forsythe is to look into a doctoral level program with the intention of someday working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“We need to look at how we’re conducting our fishing industry,” he says. “If we’re placing our fisheries off a provincial park and a migratory bird sanctuary, these are not the right places. Let’s find out what we can do to be more sustainable and efficient.”

Forsythe’s experience with non-profits and interactions with politicians at all levels have contributed to his political savvy and his interest in running for legislative office.

“Maybe it’s time for a New Brunswicker to be prime minister again,” says Forsythe.

“As we say, ‘Go big or go home!’”