So it really all began in a primary school in Dumfries in the Scottish Borders.
This is where Ken Sandilands was first introduced to the excitement of aquatic flora and fauna. “I was born in the Borders in Scotland, and then came to Southwestern Manitoba in Canada when I was ten. But my passion for aquatic biology had already been stoked back in the UK, where I had attended a small primary school with just 24 students. One week we had been tasked with digging a pond, putting in plants and then seeing the life flourish. It was such a privilege to have that hands-on experience at such a young age, developing a space for diverse life to develop. It ignited a lifelong passion.”
This is a similar story amongst the researchers at IISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA); a lifelong interest and concern for freshwater life, often sparked in childhood, is allowed to thrive in a fresh water nature lover’s dream. And for Ken it is most certainly a labour of love. “I never get bored! Even when the work is repetitive I am always content in my work knowing that I am contributing to vital and unique data sets that have a real impact on the health of our water.”
When Ken first came to work at ELA (as it was known back then), he was working on the rather excitingly titled METAALICUS project. Tasked with describing this ground-breaking seven-year (2001-2007) project for the layperson, Ken does extremely well. “Mercury exists naturally in the atmosphere, but additional amounts can also come from coal-fired plants and smelters. We needed to research the effects of the latter, to see how its introduction to lakes (via rainfall) was impacting fish. We found that mercury from the rain does indeed accumulate in fish tissues, but also that reducing the amount of mercury in rain will decrease the amount of mercury in fish.”
It was an exciting introduction to the research site, and one whose findings ultimately provided support for proposed regulations to require power companies to add mercury scrubbers to their smoke stacks, at a potential cost of billions of dollars.
The work didn’t stop there, however. Ken still works at IISD-ELA (as it is known now) where he works in lake sampling and hydrology. The lake sampling is an important part of the research agenda at IISD-ELA, whereby researchers and students, throughout the year sample around 15 lakes in rotation, and then analyse the findings to maintain long-term data sets.
The hydrology program focuses on inflow and outflows of lakes, and along with measurements of precipitation and evaporation at the Meteorological Site allows us to calculate a water budget for the lakes, which is important for determining the mass balance of a substance in the lake.
But working at IISD Experimental Lakes Area is a lifestyle, and he spends much of the year out there, so not all of his time at the site is taken up with work. There is plenty of time in the evening for walks with his dog, Bramble; plenty of lakes for going out on canoe trips; vistas galore to practice his amateur photography; and, of course, plenty of aquatic flora and fauna to satisfy his life long love.