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New hope for a Canadian coral reef damaged by bottom trawl fishing gear

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Canadian fisheries scientists have discovered a large number of intact colonies of living coral off Cape Breton in a reef complex that had been turned to rubble by decades of bottom trawl fishing gear.

It’s the first sign a recovery may be underway in the Lophelia coral conservation area — a 15-square-kilometre zone closed to fishing 14 years ago.

“I was very excited because I knew it was something we had not observed before,” said Lindsay Beazley, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

A tiny reef 280 km offshore

The white- or pink-coloured Lophelia pertusa — known as spider hazards — is the only reef-building species known in Canada.

DFO biologist Lindsay Beazley holds a piece of coral called Lophelia pertusa, also known as spider hazards. (Robert Short/CBC)

The only Lophelia reef complex is less than one kilometre square at a depth of 320 metres, 280 kilometres southeast of Louisbourg at the slope edge of the Scotian Shelf. The reef was damaged extensively by bottom trawling for redfish in the 1980s and 1990s. That fishery involves dragging a weighted net along the ocean floor.

How they found it

Beazley was part of a 16-member team on board the coast guard science ship Hudson collecting video and photographs of the seabed along the Scotian Shelf slope earlier this year.

They were looking for signs of Lophelia recovery inside the conservation area. Since 2004, four previous surveys had found little evidence of a comeback.

That changed in late June when Beazley directed the ship to an area inside the conservation zone not surveyed before.

Lophelia pertusa is the only reef-building coral found in Canada. (Robert Short/CBC)

“We came across this large matrix of Lophelia. It was mostly dead but there were many live colonies on top of the dead rubble. It also had a large diversity of other live corals,” said Beazley.

Not only had scientists never seen that many live mounds, but it appeared it had reached several metres from the ocean floor.

“It’s very tall considering most of the live mounds that we see are only a few centimetres off the seabed.”

What happens now

Scientists intend to measure the height and age of the reef mound.

It could be as high as 10 metres and very old — given that Lophelia in the northeast Atlantic off Norway grows at a rate of two centimetres a year.

They also want to know the environmental conditions at the reef site — like temperature, salinity and currents — which could point to other areas off Nova Scotia where Lophelia exists.

Why corals matter

Corals enhance the diversity of commercially important fish species and invertebrates. They also act as habitat for other animals to settle upon. DFO has said it may take decades for the Lophelia to recover.

Beazley said no new young Lophelia — or recruits — have been seen among the rubble. It’s not known whether other animals had moved in to occupy the bottom or if environmental conditions have changed.

The far right of this DFO map shows the coral conservation area off the coast of Cape Breton. (Submitted by DFO)

“But I think the discovery that we made on the cruise this year is a very exciting one. We saw many more live mounds of Lophelia which gives us hope it will once again reach a large expanse of reef.”

Dalhousie University researcher Anna Metaxas is also hopeful. 

“It shows a high number of live coral mounds, some of which may have recruited since the fishery closure,” she said. 

Read more stories from CBC Nova Scotia. 

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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