A 16-year-old Fort Smith student will travel to Poland after his Slave River research won a major prize at an Edmonton youth knowledge fair.

Ryan Schaefer’s poster about the river’s health was named the crowd favourite at the Tracking Change event, held from May 16-18.

The prize is a trip to Katowice, Poland, to attend a conference related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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The Paul W Kaeser High School student’s study demonstrated how climate change has affected the Slave River and local fish like the loche, jackfish, whitefish, and trout.

“I wanted to express to people in the city that things are changing and the health of the fish is
declining,” said Ryan. “It’s a topic that needs to get out there.”

He thinks his presentation may have won in part because he handed out dry fish to the crowd.

Soft meat and sores

Ryan’s project featured interviews with Fort Smith fishing experts like Curtis Schaefer, Louis Beaulieu, and Kevin Antoniak, who told him fish meat is softer than in previous years; algae gums up their nets; and fish have more sores than before. They think climate change is partly responsible.

“He also read additional research his teachers shared with him about metals in fish, the impacts on human health, and biomagnification; and how the Slave River is downstream from the oil sands,” read a news release from the South Slave Divisional Education Council.

“Then, he pulled it all together into a poster presentation for Tracking Change, which required presentations
to focus on how local and traditional knowledge can be used to track and monitor waterways in the Mackenzie River Basin.”

Ryan was one of approximately 60 students from western Canada who attended the fair, hosted by the University of Alberta.

The conference in Katowice runs from December 3-14.