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A catalyst for ocean research funding

How John Risley’s $25-million personal commitment helped demonstrate the viability of the Ocean Frontier Institute

For much of his life, business leader and philanthropist John Risley has been travelling a path that connects Dalhousie, the ocean and the province of Nova Scotia. A long-time advocate for his home province, Risley is passionate about advancing Nova Scotia’s interests and its bountiful natural resources.

“Everyone from Nova Scotia feels that connection to the ocean,” says Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., Canada’s largest fishing company. Risley’s passion and respect for the sea is best articulated in his recent gift of $25 million to the Dal-led Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), an international collaboration that positions Canada as a global leader in oceans research.

“The Ocean Frontier Institute’s research will help us contribute to the development of solutions for the sustainable use of the ocean off Canada’s coast and around the world.”

Risley’s gift to OFI is the culmination of his long-time association with Dalhousie University and its many stakeholders, both internal and external. The Risley-Dal-oceans story dates back to the 1960s. “I took arts classes for a couple of years, but it really wasn’t for me,” he says. Nevertheless, Risley has been a vocal advocate for Dalhousie and oceans research for over 50 years, and has continued to serve his alma mater in a variety of roles, including 11 years as a senior advisor on Dalhousie’s Board of Governors.

Risley’s conversation is filled with references to home and the importance of honoring one’s roots. He also frames the conversation around oceans in terms of home. “This is a huge opportunity for our region to bring in new businesses and leverage our competitive edge in oceans research.”

It’s also an invitation for Nova Scotia to differentiate itself on the world stage. In the quest for $94 million in federal funding, Risley understood it was essential for Dalhousie and its partner institutions to demonstrate a significant private-sector investment to give the proposal legs. “I was happy to serve as a catalyst for this investment,” he says of his personal $25-million commitment.

With total funding of $220 million, OFI will focus its efforts specifically on the Northwest Atlantic and the Canadian Arctic Gateway—a region of the global ocean where changes happen first and fastest. Areas of impact will include major storm prediction and mitigation; improved management of ocean resources; more sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; and enhanced marine transportation policy.

“The Ocean Frontier Institute’s research will help us better understand these changes and contribute to the development of solutions for the sustainable use of the ocean off Canada’s coast and around the world,” says Risley. “It will also help us better understand the role of oceans in climate change and the race to mitigate some of those impacts.”

As the Ocean Frontier Institute embarks on its ambitious journey, there is already much to celebrate. “OFI aligns with the concept of an Atlantic economy strategy—one that’s based on the strengths of our different provinces and what we can work on collaboratively. We’re already working together for a common goal and that’s what OFI is all about,” says Risley.