Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute
 

Biographies


Jane Heeney

Priority Place Engagement Intern

Jane graduated in 2020 from the University of King’s College and Dalhousie University with a BSc. in Marine Biology. She then completed a graduate certificate in Remote Sensing at the NSCC Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in 2021, during which she worked with Parks Canada to classify coastal estuarine environments from drone imagery. Jane has worked in the past as a Shorebird Stewardship Assistant with Birds Canada and is excited to now be joining the MTRI as the Priority Place Engagement Intern. In her spare time Jane loves to spend time exploring the coast, camping, hiking and diving.

Alysha Griffin

Communication and Municipal Outreach Coordinator

Alysha has joined our team as a Communication and Municipal Outreach Coordinator working on projects related to the Kespukwitk Conservation Collaborative. Originally from rural Prince Edward Island, Alysha moved to Nova Scotia after finishing her Bachelor of Science at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, NL. Having lived in three out of four Atlantic Provinces, Alysha has a particular affinity for the ocean and coastal areas. She recently completed her Master of Environmental Studies at Dalhousie, with her thesis research focused on ecological and social connectivity in the Kespukwitk/Southwest region of Nova Scotia. Alysha’s interests focus on the social side of conservation, in particular conservation social science, local knowledge and community engagement in conservation, and environmental and social psychology. When she’s not working, Alysha spends much of her free time enjoying her endless list of hobbies, including painting, gardening, and hiking with her dog Arrow (pictured).

Nicole Hubley

Butterfly Project Coordinator

Nicole Hubley graduated from Acadia University in 2008. She began working for MTRI in September of 2017 and has since become the Butterfly Project Coordinator. She engages Nova Scotian youth in environmental education, giving many presentations and seminars throughout the province, both in schools and other events. Monarch butterflies are amazing, and Nicole encourages everyone to plant swamp milkweed as it is the only food source for Monarch caterpillars and important habitat to sustain, thus they too can enjoy the beauty of Monarchs. Nicole lives in Pleasant River with her husband and son, and you will most often find her in the garden, walking, or taking photos of both wildlife and her family.

Tom Neily

Botanist and Lichenologist

Tom Neily has been surveying the forests and wetlands of Nova Scotia for the Boreal Felt Lichen and other rare cyanolichens for over fifteen years. He is happiest when in the field especially in good habitat which is becoming noticeably more difficult to find. Not content with that challenge he is actively collecting and maintaining a bryophyte collection which currently consists of over four thousand specimens from the maritimes and has found several species previously not recorded for the area. Tom also has an interest in vascular plants, fungi and all species at risk.When not in the woods Tom enjoys adding to the diversity around his home on the north mountain in the Annapolis Valley specializing in not-so-common trees and shrubs.

Jeffie McNeil

Co-Director / Species at Risk Biologist

Jeffie McNeil is one of MTRI’s co-directors, along with Jane Barker. Jeffie focuses on species at risk as well as finance and budgeting. She began working with Blanding's turtles in the 1990s when she did her honor's thesis at Acadia University, followed by her MSc thesis. Upon graduation she continued working with Blanding's turtles, Eastern ribbonsnakes, and other reptiles at risk as recovery coordinator. She is a co-chair of the NS Reptile and Amphibian Recovery Team and manages the species at risk resource site. She is grateful for the chance to get to know these long-lived turtles and work with amazing volunteers, staff, students, and partners.

 

Brad Toms

Wildlife Biologist

Brad Toms started working as a Wildlife Biologist for MTRI in 2009. Previous to that he studied seabirds and other bird species at risk for Canadian Wildlife Service, Massasauga Rattlesnakes for Parks Canada and Black Bears for the Ontario MNRF. Brad's projects almost always focus on recovering species at risk in Nova Scotia through collaborative studies and stewardship. In his spare time he enjoys staring at the ocean looking for pelagic seabirds, orienteering and spending time at Shingle Lake.

 

Thomas Sweeney

Aquatic Health Intern

Thomas graduated in January 2020 with a Masters in Resource and Environmental Management from Dalhousie University and focused much of his work there on fisheries and aquatic ecosystem management.  He had previously graduated from Quest University in British Colombia with a BaSc. and focused his time there on Marine Biology.  At MTRI Thomas is primarily working with aquatic conservation projects, but is always eager to work in the field in whatever projects are ongoing.  When he's not at work he loves spending time in the outdoors fishing, camping and SCUBA diving.  He is accompanied in his profile picture by his dog Roxy.

Nick Knutson

Volunteer Engagement Coordinator

An Acadian from Clare, Nick studied the nesting habitat of the Endangered Roseate Tern in Kespukwitk during his M.Sc at Acadia and Université Sainte-Anne. At MTRI, Nick supports species at risk by developing community science projects. Nick works on protecting the Coastal Islands in Kespukwitk, on the Nova Scotia Herp Atlas, and on a number of other projects involving data collection with the app, iNaturalist. Nick has also studied law and he is very interested in environmental policy and species at risk legislation. 

 

Chad Simmons

Ecosystem Researcher

Chad is joining the MTRI team as the newest field research assistant. This summer he will be working with Colin Gray on the old forest project surveying red oak, white pine and red maple stands. He will also be helping with loon surveys, hopefully spotting previously banded birds and their nests. He is currently on a short reprieve from his MSc at Dalhousie University, where he is studying the habitat of rare forest plants in Nova Scotia’s Acadian Forest. His project is identifying the environmental conditions, successional stage and community structure of downy rattlesnake plantain, cancer root and round-lobed hepatica. 

 

Jane Barker

Co-Director/ Forest Program Coordinator

Jane is one of MTRI’s co-directors, along with Jeffie McNeil, and oversees the forest program. An outdoor enthusiast and nature lover as a child, her studies and volunteer work in the UK introduced her to a career in nature conservation on the west coast of Scotland, where she spent many happy years as a mountain ranger for the National Trust for Scotland. On moving to Canada with her family fourteen years ago, she learned much about and fell in love with the Acadian forest, and has focused much of her work at MTRI on forest stewardship projects, outreach and education. It has been a joyous journey to continue working and learning about with a diversity of passionate co-workers, land stewards and partners!

Colin Gray

Ecologist

Colin Gray has been involved with the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute since 2008. Joining the team as a volunteer, a member of the Board of Directors, Chair of the Board of Directors and since 2013 as a regular full time staff member. Colin spent 20 years in policing before returning to his earlier passion for environmental science and research. He has had the pleasure of working with a dedicated and passionate team of researchers on a multitude of interesting projects in the past 13 years and credits the team for his success and continued enthusiasm. 

Jenn Chivers

Office Manager

Call or email us at MTRI and you’ll likely speak to Jenn, our office manager. Jenn plays an important role in almost all our projects at MTRI. Keeping things running smoothly and keeping everyone organized is a tough job but Jenn accomplishes it all!  When she’s not at work, Jenn enjoys spending time in nature and with her family. 

Lori Phinney

Species at Risk Biologist

Lori first began at MTRI in 2016 as a summer student through a Clean Internship then returned in 2017 upon completing her biology degree at Acadia University. She worked on a variety of SAR projects (e.g. Chimney swifts), planning and coordinating meetings and events. In 2019, she started her master’s research at the University of Waterloo under the supervision of Dr. Hugh Broders and in partnership with MTRI and Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site. Lori studied the status of endangered bats in Nova Scotia and now leads the MTRI bat project and helps coordinate reptile projects.  

Carter Feltham

Reptile Researcher and Data Analyst

Carter Feltham officially started as a summer student with MTRI in 2014 fresh out of high school, however she had been volunteering with the Blanding’s Turtle nesting program since 2003. Through those years she has worked on several projects, but always continued with Blanding’s Turtle initiatives. She went to Acadia University for a Bachelor of Science, and ended up with an offer to do a Master's degree focusing on a newly discovered group of Blanding’s Turtles. She continually works on analyzing data for both Blanding’s Turtles and Eastern Ribbonsnakes while leading the reptile field team to monitor known populations. Most recently she has been working on analyzing habitat use of Ribbonsnakes, nesting success of Blanding’s Turtles, and creating maps in GIS. 

James Neish

Field Researcher

James started at MTRI in 2014, monitoring Blanding’s turtles in remote places in Kejimkujik NP&NHS, after having worked for Friends of Keji since 2011. He is a nature lover who works on all kinds of projects at MTRI. It takes a long time and a lot of focus to properly manage the data we collect, but James does it with a smile! When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time outside and learning about the great biodiversity in Nova Scotia! He also has a keen interest in neuroplasticity, especially with regard to overcoming learning struggles. 

Abby Lewis

Forest Stewardship Coordinator

Abby has worked at MTRI since the fall of 2018 on a variety of forestry, outreach, and species at risk research projects. She previously graduated from the University of Northern British Columbia with a BSc. in Forest Ecology and Management, and is currently studying at the NSCC Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) toward the Geospatial Data Analytics graduate certificate. Having grown up in southwestern NS, Abby is pleased to be rooted in the community as a member of MTRI and other local organizations. In spare time she enjoys exploring the waterways of southern NS, bird watching, and roaming about in the woods.