Heart of the river

One scientist’s love affair with the Saint Lawrence’s estuaire moyen

In an area of the Saint Lawrence River situated between Île D’Orleans and Île aux Coudres lies a stretch of water where the ocean and the river merge. Extreme tides, brackish water, and rich sediment deposits mean that this part of the river is very ecologically diverse; it provides the last natural habitat for rare species like the black sturgeon. Scientists have labelled this place estuaire moyen, but because of its unique characteristics, physicist and artist Rona Rangsch would like to change the area’s name to estuaire central. It doesn’t seem like a huge shift, to replace “middle” with “central,” but as Rangsch argued in her multimedia presentation last weekend at articule, this subtle change could actually affect how people treat this unique environment.

Rangsch began her presentation by speaking about the estuary’s tides. At its highest point, she explained, the tide rises five metres above the low tide mark. To illustrate the difference this makes on the shore, Rangsch measured the height of the house she was staying at in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, a town along the estuary, using a tall white pole with a bright pink stopper at the end. During the talk, she played a sped-up video that showed her placing the stick on the shore at low tide, and how it disappeared completely when the tide rose six hours later.

In addition to depicting the beauty of the area through photos and videos, Rangsch brought in statistics and test results to highlight the area’s unique environment. During her stay along the estuary, Rangsch took water samples from various parts of the river, measuring different sediment levels. The inclusion of visuals of the testing certificates Rangsch received – verifying that the water quality tests performed were accurate – allowed her scientific background to seep into the presentation, as did a photograph of test tubes lined up side-by-side, revealing the different sediment-rich colours of the water at the different test sites.

In this way, Rangsch showed the authority of her scientific procedure, while at the same time enabling the audience to engage with the project via its artistic qualities. The photos and videos not only gave Rangsch freedom to make the presentation more playful and colourful, but they also allowed the viewer to see the estuaire moyen in a holistic way, while keeping the scientific facts precise and validated. Using both these disciplines, Rangsch enforced the importance of this area of water as a central and unique ecological environment.

Rangsch’s presentation also illustrated that this part of the river is not only important for scientific purposes or its scenic setting. She made a point of showing the estuary’s influence on the people who live along its banks as well, as when she played an audio clip in which a man describes the effects that extreme tides have on those living along the estuary. She connects these three communities – of scientists, artists, and local residents – through various mediums as a way of giving her audience a realistic view of the estuary, even in a small gallery space miles and miles away from its waters.

Through showing the diversity of this aquatic landscape to audiences around the country, Rangsch hopes to get people to begin to call it estuaire central, and in so doing to award the unique environment the recognition it deserves. The subtle change to a grander name will hopefully prompt other communities to explore this area of the river, rather than overlook the hidden habitat.