With extensive experience living and working in northern Canada, Louie Porta serves as the Executive Director of Oceans North. Louie is also a Canadian member and the chairman of the Joint Public Advisory Committee, which advises the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation. He formerly served as lead political advisor to Mary Simon during her appointment as Minister’s Special Representative for Arctic Leadership. Louie was recently appointed to the national advisory panel charged with recommending how Canada can meet its international conservation obligations. He is also an advisor to the Students on Ice Foundation, a Senior Associate for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, serves on the governing council of the Ocean Tracking Network, and sits on the research oversight committee for Genome Canada’s investigation into oil spill countermeasures for the Arctic. He has a master’s degree from Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies, and lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his wife and three children.
Vice-President, Policy Development and Counsel
An avid naturalist and wilderness explorer, Chris Debicki works with Inuit communities to secure greater protections for critical Arctic marine habitat in places like Lancaster Sound and the beluga estuaries of Western Hudson Bay. He supported the creation of the North Water Polynya Commission, a binational body that is collaborating with Inuit in Greenland and Nunavut to preserve this region. Before joining Oceans North, he worked with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway on oceanographic research in Greenland and sailed through the Northwest Passage to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on Inuit communities. He also served as the executive director of Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik, the Nunavut legal aid organization that serves the eastern Arctic. He has a law degree from McGill University and is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Vice-President, Operations and Projects
Susanna’s commitment to marine conservation was born during her final year of high school when she spent six months on a tall ship during the same period when Northern cod stocks collapsed in Atlantic Canada. Her work now focuses on achieving tangible conservation outcomes in sustainable fisheries and spatial protections in Atlantic Canada and the Arctic, as well as initiatives to protect high seas biodiversity. She completed her Ph.D. at Dalhousie University, including research on North Atlantic marine sponge populations, and has worked for the past decade and a half on the science-policy interface for national and international fisheries and ocean conservation. Before joining Oceans North, she led the marine team at Ecology Action Centre in Halifax where she lives.
Senior Arctic Advisor
Hailing from the central Canadian Arctic, Hilu has extensive experience in community development and environmental review processes. She is a member of Nunavummiut Makitagunarngningit, an independent NGO that informs Nunavut residents about the impacts of uranium mining, and is on the board of MiningWatch Canada. Hilu has also represented Inuit nationally and internationally. She has presented at a United Nations seminar on the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, helped craft the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s input on the Canadian Impact Assessment Act, and assisted Europe’s largest science agency with integrating local knowledge into Arctic research. Hilu is a mother of two young adults and has her B.A. from Carleton University.
Senior Advisor and Board Secretary
Drawing on nearly 15 years of experience working on Northern and Indigenous issues, Sheena provides strategic and operational support to the Oceans North team. She also serves as Secretary to the Oceans North Board of Directors. Before joining Oceans North, Sheena worked as an independent researcher and co-founded Northern Public Affairs, a publication aimed at mobilizing knowledge for better public policy. Sheena earned a PhD in Public Policy from Carleton University, where she examined education governance in Nunavut and its implications for institutional development in the context of modern treaties. Sheena lives in Dundas, Ontario with her husband and two nature-loving sons.
Director of Policy
Focusing on interdisciplinary policy solutions, Erin Abou-Abssi works to address issues related to climate change and industrial and commercial pressures in the Arctic. She draws on experience in the private sector and with the auditor general of Canada, the First Nations in British Columbia and the Public Health Agency of Canada. She earned her master’s degree in natural resource management and regional planning at Simon Fraser University and has conducted paleoecological climate change research. She is based in Ottawa, Ontario.
Senior Climate and Conservation Advisor
With a decade of experience working in environmental policy, advocacy, and government affairs, Mollie is focused on helping Oceans North manage and deliver on key objectives across the organization. Most recently, Mollie served as regional and communications advisor to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, where she developed a deep understanding of the perspectives that different communities have on conservation. In addition to her work as a ministerial advisor, she has worked on political campaigns and in the non-profit sector: Mollie was previously a director at Canadians for Clean Prosperity, a not-for-profit dedicated to building consensus around pricing carbon, as well as the national director for Put a Price On It—Canada. She is based in Ottawa.
Director of Finance
With more than two decades of experience in the profit and nonprofit sectors, Debbie Bernhardt specializes in operations management, accounting and finance. She holds a CPA, CGA designation, and has certification in risk management. She is based in Ottawa, Ontario.
Senior Fisheries Advisor
John has extensive experience working closely with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fish harvesters. Besides working directly with groundfish and scallop fishermen, he was employed for over a decade with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in a variety of roles. Before joining Oceans North, John worked with the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources as the Commercial Fisheries Liaison Coordinator, where he worked to advance Mi’kmaw participation in commercial fisheries and attended fisheries management meetings at the national and international levels. John has been a life-long community activist and volunteer, holding high-level positions with organizations such as the Regional Hospital Foundation, the Cape Breton Horsemen’s Association, the [email protected] Society, and the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation. He lives in Cape Breton, where he grew up.
Ocean Research and Operations Advisor
Kelsey Crouse has a strong interest in marine conservation and community engagement. As a researcher, she has helped to track fish in the Bay of Fundy to understand how anthropogenic development impacts migration. She has also worked on coastal conservation initiatives in Nova Scotia, focusing on habitat restoration and nature-based solutions to protect shorelines from coastal erosion. Kelsey holds a Master of Science in Northern Studies from Carleton University, where she researched Chinook salmon in the Yukon River Watershed. She is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Director of Marine Climate Action
Drawing on nearly 15 years of experience working on energy, environmental, and Indigenous issues, Brent is focused on advancing marine-based climate solutions. Before joining Oceans North, Brent served as Chief of Staff for the Minister of Environment, Parks, and Climate Change in Alberta, where he helped to develop and implement the province’s Climate Leadership Plan, as well as to advance an ambitious agenda to create new parks and protected areas. In his spare time, he can be found wandering the mountains on his skis or exploring Canada’s rivers and lakes. His passion to explore nature and his dedication to public service motivate him to help accelerate the transition to a net-zero emissions world.
Arctic Fisheries Advisor
Brynn Devine has studied fish and fisheries across a variety of marine ecosystems, from shallow coral reefs in Australia to deep-sea frontiers off eastern Canada. Her work focuses on sustainable fisheries management and conservation of Arctic marine ecosystems. Before joining Oceans North, Brynn worked extensively on species caught as bycatch in northern deep-water fisheries, with an emphasis on Greenland sharks. She earned her PhD from Memorial University of Newfoundland, where her research explored the environmental drivers of deep-sea fish distributions in Atlantic Canada and the Eastern Arctic. She is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Arctic Project Specialist
With training in integrated environmental and biodiversity management, Maude works on supporting and advancing community-based conservation projects in the Arctic region. She has a master’s degree in the environment from the Université de Sherbrooke, where her studies focused on how Indigenous protected and conserved areas (IPCAs) in the Canadian Arctic can benefit both communities and marine ecosystems. Maude is based in Montréal, Québec.
With a passion for remote fieldwork and oceanographic research, Annie Eastwood works with Arctic-based communities to help develop environmental monitoring programs. She previously worked as a research associate for a consulting firm, as a research technician for the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and as a wildland firefighter. Annie holds a master’s degree in environment and geography from the University of Manitoba. With the help of community members from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, she conducted her fieldwork for her thesis on the interactions between fresh and marine waters in Hudson Bay. Annie is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Digital Media and Design Manager
Heather Grant uses her skills as a communications specialist and a policy campaigner to create impactful visuals and engaging digital experiences that support ocean education, advocacy and policy change. Before joining Oceans North, Heather worked as an independent contractor supporting Canadian and international ocean conservation coalitions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Dalhousie University and is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Senior Policy Advisor
With expertise in environmental impact assessment and arctic ecosystems, Amanda Joynt works with Inuit communities and governments to implement sustainable ocean management initiatives. Her experience as a biologist in the private sector and the federal public service, as a manager in the non-profit sector, and 15 years working in Canada’s Arctic shapes an interdisciplinary approach to her work. She earned a master’s degree in global development practice and a PhD in food security and governance at the University of Waterloo. She is currently based in Waterloo, ON.
Community and Science Director
An expert on community-based scientific research, Jennie Knopp works on projects related to harvesting, conservation and monitoring in the Inuvialuit, Kitikmeot and Nunavik regions. She has over 10 years of experience working in the Canadian Arctic in collaboration with communities, local experts, co-management boards, researchers, land claim organizations and federal government departments. She earned her PhD from Trent University, where she did research focused on integrating Inuit and western scientific knowledge to better understand community-based monitoring of local food resources. She lives outside Ottawa, Ontario.
Senior L’nu Advisor on Conservation and Climate Change
Melissa comes from the Mi’kma’ki district of Kespukwitk, with maternal connections to the district of Siknikt. Immersed in traditional ecological knowledge, skills and values from a young age, Melissa has worked as an Indigenous Guardian alongside others to bring awareness about climate change and the effects it is having on cultural practices and the overall identity of her people. She is known for her artistic skills as well as her knowledge of traditional Mi’kmaq medicine and birch bark canoe building. Melissa also worked towards the creation of the Katewe’katik and Pu’tlaqne’katik Wilderness areas, which were designated in 2020. She is a member of the Acadia First Nation and continues to live in Kespukwitk, where she was born and raised, with her twins.
Director of Program Development
With expertise in outreach and program development, Paul Labun conducts government and community outreach in Ottawa, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. Before joining Oceans North, he served as a strategic advisor to the Manitoba government and Manitoba Hydro for over a decade. He also directed development projects in post-conflict Bosnia. He grew up in Winnipeg and spent many summers of his youth guiding wilderness canoe trips on Lake of the Woods in northern Ontario. He earned a master’s degree in Canadian history from Queen’s University. He is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
John Noksana Jr.
Community Projects Advisor
An active harvester from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, John Noksana Jr. advises Oceans North on conservation projects in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) and across the North. For the past 14 years, John served in leadership roles in the wildlife co-management system established by the land claim of the ISR. He served for six years as an Inuvialuit member of the Fisheries Joint Management Committee, including a term as Acting Chairperson. John was in leadership roles in the locally administered Beluga Harvest Monitoring Program and the Imaryuk Monitoring Program for the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway and Husky Lakes, among numerous other projects. He has represented Inuvialuit across Canada and Alaska, including serving as a member of the Inuvialuit Inupiat Beluga Whaling Commission. John also holds the position of Property Manager for the Inuvialuit Development Corporation. John lives in Tuktoyaktuk with his wife and children and makes time throughout the year for hunting, fishing and camping. He especially enjoys spending time at the nearby Imaryuk (Husky Lakes) area in the spring with family and friends.
Alex Ootoowak is the lead technician for our acoustic monitoring program in Milne Inlet. He has assisted with numerous Oceans North projects over the years, from setting up time-lapse cameras that capture sea-ice conditions to following Arctic whale migrations. Alex was also a community delegate at the North Water Polynya workshop, where community members from northern Nunavut and Greenland established a mandate for marine protection in the area. An experienced hunter and diesel mechanic, Alex is widely respected for his survival skills and ingenuity; he once repaired the front suspension of a snow machine by lashing in a caribou fibula to replace the broken steel rod. He lives in Pond Inlet, Nunavut.
Arctic Projects Director
Sid Pain brings a unique set of skills to his work as Arctic projects director in Nunatsiavut. His background includes outpost nursing, search and rescue, firefighting, diving and business management. Originally from Australia, Sid moved to Nunatsiavut in the early 1990s. Because of his passion for the ocean, he formed his own company, providing commercial and environmental diving services to Northern Labrador clients. He most recently worked at Voisey’s Bay Mine, where he was the emergency preparedness and health services supervisor. Sid is based in Nain, Nunatsiavut.
Fisheries and Special Projects Advisor
Gemma Rayner is a marine biologist with expertise in sustainable fisheries management. Her work focuses on rebuilding Atlantic fish populations and advising on marine conservation. Before joining Oceans North, Gemma worked in environmental consulting, commercial fishing, aquaculture, and academic research. Gemma holds a master’s degree in aquaculture from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador and a bachelor’s degree in applied marine biology from Bangor University. Originally from the United Kingdom, she is now based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
With expertise in fisheries management and policy, Katie Schleit focuses on rebuilding fish populations while considering the needs of people and the ecosystem. Katie has worked in the NGO and public sector for over a decade, collaborating with government, fishermen, scientists and the public on ocean conservation and sustainable management. Before joining Oceans North, she led marine campaigns at the Ecology Action Centre and previously worked at the Pew Charitable Trusts and U.S. Peace Corps. She holds a master’s degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington where her research included working with a community in the Philippines to develop a marine protected area network management plan. She is based in the Halifax office.
Alex Tesar uses his training in journalism and marine policy to support and communicate the work of Oceans North. He loves to research and create compelling, science-based narratives about the ocean and the people who rely on it. Before joining Oceans North, Alex worked as a writer and editor in Toronto. His work has been published in The Walrus, Nautilus and the Canadian Encyclopedia, among others. He earned a master’s degree in marine management from Dalhousie University, where he studied the relationship between scientists and the public. He is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Focusing on marine protected areas in the Atlantic and Arctic regions, Colleen Turlo works to ensure communities and stakeholders are involved throughout the entire process. She also brings extensive knowledge and experience in sustainable seafood market initiatives. Colleen has dedicated her career to marine conservation, including working on federal policies related to seafood marketing and fisheries management, teaching post-secondary courses, researching marine spatial planning and facilitating community-based co-management. She earned a master’s degree in marine management from Dalhousie University. Colleen is based in the Halifax office.
A marine mammal expert, Kristin Westdal has worked extensively on research about narwhal, belugas and killer whales in Canada’s eastern Arctic, including collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She also owned and operated a kayaking ecotourism operation in Hudson Bay from 2001 to 2005 that offered close encounters with beluga whales. She earned a PhD from the University of Manitoba, where she researched factors affecting beluga distribution in Hudson Bay. She is currently based in North Vancouver, B.C..
Sean Young loves using his background in journalism and communications to make complicated concepts clearer. His previous employment with Parks Canada made him passionate about conservation through a social lens, and his marketing experience helps him craft compelling messaging. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University, and before joining Oceans North worked with The Walrus, CBC and Xtra Magazine. Originally from Prince Edward Island, he is based out of Toronto, Ontario.
International Policy Advisor
Driven by a love of nature and a keen interest in policy, Nicole works on international treaty negotiations and policy campaigns for Oceans North. She pulls from experience working at the confluence of education, policy, and environmental science, with specific interest in the polar regions. Previously, Nicole conducted research in South Africa and Antarctica focused on sustainable development, conservation, and international environmental politics. Nicole earned her master’s degree in International Relations from The London School of Economics. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, she is now located in Halifax, Nova Scotia.