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Modelling and Predicting Disease Outbreak and Spread in Coastal Seas


  • Headshot

    Martin Krkosek University of Toronto

Developing a modelling framework to understand and predict the conditions in which a coastal area is susceptible to a disease outbreak, and how such an outbreak would spread geographically.

With little warning, outbreaks of infectious disease can emerge and cause significant harm to humans, wildlife, and livestock. While the public may know of diseases such as Ebola, Avian Flu, or Lyme disease, they are far less familiar with diseases beneath the water, even though such diseases may have large consequences for the food chain.

Coastal marine environments have experienced profound changes owing to the rapid expansion of industrial-scale aquaculture production, which now produces more seafood than global fisheries. A major challenge to aquaculture and their surrounding ecosystems and fisheries is the occurrence of disease outbreaks that cause major losses to seafood industries as well as marine ecosystems.

This project aims to develop a modeling framework to understand and predict the conditions in which a coastal area is susceptible to a disease outbreak, and how such an outbreak would spread geographically. To do so, it brings together two different quantitative modeling approaches – the modeling of coastal hydrodynamics to understand pathogen movement and the modeling of parasite population dynamics to understand the mechanisms underlying the outbreak of infectious disease.

The project focuses on an area of British Columbia called the Discovery Islands, east of Vancouver Island. It is one of the two biggest salmon aquaculture producing regions in British Columbia, but is also situated on the migration routes of Canada’s most important wild salmon stocks from the Fraser River. Those wild stocks have been in decline, causing fishery closure and public concern. The $26 million federal judicial inquiry – the Cohen Commission – into the decline of Fraser sockeye identified disease interactions with farmed fish as a major uncertainty and research priority. Thus the research project will have relevance to understanding, predicting, and managing infectious disease not just in coastal aquaculture regions, but also inform management and policy of wild salmon stocks and the Canadian communities and economies that depend on wild salmon. 

Investigators:

  • Peter Chandler
  • Mike Foreman
  • Mark Lewis University of Alberta

The $26 million federal judicial inquiry – the Cohen Commission – into the decline of Fraser sockeye identified disease interactions with farmed fish as a major uncertainty and research priority.

This project will help understand, predict, and manage infectious disease, not just in coastal aquaculture regions, but also inform management and policy of wild salmon stocks and the Canadian communities and economies that depend on wild salmon.