Kristen Noel is passionate about helping to preserve wildlife, especially seabirds, in the face of climate change and habitat loss. A native of Enfield, Nova Scotia, Kristen graduated in 2019 with a BSc in biology from Université Sainte-Anne. While she was there, an ornithology course sparked her interest in birds and in working to protect them.
Her research on the evolution of conspecific brood parasitism in Red-breasted Mergansers took first place at Université Sainte-Anne’s student research conference. It was also presented at Science Atlantic’s conference.
As an active volunteer, Kristen has monitored the migration of Northern Saw-Whet Owls and the population of Black Ducks in southwest Nova Scotia; the work included banding both species and applying radio transmitters to the tiny owls. Working as a wild bird care apprentice at Le Nichoir wild bird rehabilitation centre in Hudson, Quebec, she examined and treated many species of injured and orphaned birds, including hand-feeding baby birds on a strict schedule.
During the spring of 2019, Kristen volunteered to help with a nesting ecology project, led by Environment and Climate Change Canada, that targeted endangered Roseate Terns in Nova Scotia.
“I spent two months living in a tent on an island while working on a seabird colony monitoring Roseate Terns,” she says. “I was also able to spend two weeks on Sable Island, working on an Ipswich Sparrow study. These experiences reaffirmed that this is my passion, and there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. They also provided me with the skills and tools that will help me grow into a better biologist.”
At Acadia, Kristen’s research project for her master’s degree in biology is intended to help conserve Common Eiders in Nova Scotia. “Common Eiders are large sea ducks with a circumpolar breeding distribution,” she says. “Their populations have been declining at a steady rate in recent years.”
For her project, she will compare their natural nesting conditions to artificial nesting structures that protect sea ducks from predation. “It is critical that we find solutions and technologies to combat the problems that threaten to destroy our planet such as global warming, climate change, and mass extinctions,” she says. “Conservation begins with education; the more we understand about different species and how they interact with their ecosystems, the easier it will be to put conservation efforts into place.”
An avid birdwatcher, Kristen makes time to go birding nearly every week and has familiarized herself with the majority of bird species in the Maritimes and Quebec, along with their natural history. Receiving an Arthur Irving Academy Scholarship in Environmental Studies has made it possible for her to fulfill her dream of conducting research that can improve our understanding of wildlife biology and ecology, she says. “I am incredibly honoured to have received the Irving Scholarship, and it has changed my life in so many ways. I will never be able to put into words just how grateful I am for the generosity and philanthropy shown by the Irving family.”
Q&A With Kristen
Why did you choose Acadia?
I chose Acadia because I had heard wonderful things about their graduate studies program and there was a project available with a professor here for a master’s student that I was very interested in so Acadia seemed like a natural choice for me.
Tell us about your experiences so far. Have they helped you grow as a person and scholar?
I spent this past summer doing field work for my project as well as collaborating on other projects. I spent two months living in a tent on an island while working on a seabird colony monitoring Roseate Terns, which are an endangered species. I was also able to spend two weeks on Sable Island, working on an Ipswich Sparrow study. These experiences have helped me grow as a person by reaffirming that this is my passion, and there is nothing else that I would rather be doing. I am so grateful to have found what I am meant to do so young in life, and I am so excited about all the places this passion will lead me to in the future. These experiences have also helped me grow as a scholar by providing me with skills and tools that I can transfer to other aspects of my life which will in turn help me grow into a better biologist.
What difference has receiving the Irving Scholarship made to you and your family?
I am incredibly honoured to have received the Irving Scholarship, and it has changed my life in so many ways. As someone who had to rely entirely on student loans to complete my undergraduate degree, and amassed a lot of student debt along the way, this scholarship has alleviated an enormous financial burden, which in turn allows me to be more focused on my studies. With this financial support, I was able to leave one of my jobs which has allowed me to be on campus at Acadia more often and find a more manageable balance between work and school.
What are your career aspirations? Will your education at Acadia help?
My passion lies in wildlife conservation; more specifically, I am very interested in how seabirds are reacting to climate change, how they can be used as indicators of ecosystem health, and how we can protect them. I hope to be able to answer these questions in whatever career path I choose. I would like to either pursue a PhD and dive into the world of academia, or find a job working with these magnificent creatures when I complete my master’s degree.
Do you have advice to other students about their choice of universities? Or applying for scholarships?
I did my undergraduate degree at Université Sainte-Anne, and was worried how I would like the transition to a larger university. I am in awe of how warmly I was welcomed at Acadia, and how seamless my transition to the school was. I would recommend Acadia University to everyone; there is a place for everyone here! Some advice that I have regarding scholarships would be apply to every scholarship that you can. The worst-case scenario is that you don’t get it… which is a fair price to pay for just a few hours out of your time. I would do your research, ask around, and educate yourself about what scholarships are available to you!
How will your research help society?
Common Eiders are large sea ducks with a circumpolar breeding distribution. Their populations have been declining at a steady rate in recent years. A contributing factor of this decline has been the presence of predators, such as Great Black Back Gulls. My project involves the implementation of artificial shelters, which female eiders nest in, which has the goal of reducing predation of Common Eiders. These shelters will hopefully be able to re-establish populations. This is particularly important, as Common Eiders hold a high cultural significance to sport hunters and indigenous peoples. This is also important from an ecological standpoint, as eiders (like any seabird) are excellent indicators of marine ecosystem health.
Do have words of thanks for the Irving Family for their support of students like you, and for the donation of the research spaces at the KC Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens?
I will never be able to put into words just how grateful I am for the generosity and philanthropy shown by the Irving Family. They have changed my life. As Mrs. Irving so eloquently put during the luncheon, they are not only providing financial support; they are also providing us with the support to follow our dreams. I will forever be grateful for what this family has done for me. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you.
Is there a professor or program that is helping you that you want to comment on?
Dr. Mark Mallory in the biology department is such an inspiring role model for all young scientists. He has given me knowledge, skills, and experiences that have changed my life. He is so knowledgeable and such a great person to talk to. I think I speak on behalf of the entire Mallory Lab when I say that he is an absolute pleasure to have as a supervisor, and we are so incredibly lucky to be mentored by such a wonderful biologist. His passion for what he does shines through in his work, and he encourages and inspires me to be the best biologist and the best person that I can be everyday.