Ashley Watt holding copy of her bookDoctoral student Ashley Watt has produced a children’s book about saving lake sturgeon threatened by pollution and loss of habitat.

Quest to save sturgeon subject of storybook

Integrative biology PhD student Ashley Watt (MSc 2019) fell deeply in love with lake sturgeon and she is bursting to spread that appreciation with the publication of her new storybook, Sam and the Magic Key: A Quest to Save the Lake Sturgeon.

A follow-up to her 2022 book Rory the Redside Dace, this independently published children’s book focuses on a little boy named Sam who sets out to help a talking lake sturgeon whose home is threatened by water pollution and habitat loss.

“First off, sturgeon are absolutely adorable as juveniles and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t fall instantly in love with these charismatic beautiful fish,” says Watt.

“It’s also cool to think we have a species in Canada that used to exist when the dinosaurs did, and I think people will be interested in them as a species.”

These ancient fish, who have been around for 200 million years, can live up to 100 years and grow to two and a half metres long. There are many different species of sturgeon, with their at-risk status ranging from threatened to endangered.

“There are so many people around the world working on the preservation of sturgeon I thought it would make a great outreach species,” Watt says.

While her doctoral research is centred around the redside dace, she discovered lake sturgeon in the lab of her supervisor Trevor Pitcher, a professor of integrative biology and researcher with the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.

“There are a lot of issues leading to their decline in the wild, and in Pitcher’s lab there have been two master’s students working on their conservation by studying ways to improve fitness to inform future reintroduction efforts,” says Watt.

This summer she plans to do a book reading at UWindsor’s Freshwater Restoration Ecology Centre and visit Ontario schools. Watt thanks Olivia Galloway from Pitcher’s lab for helping edit the book to ensure the details of the biology were correct.

“My second book uses a higher vocabulary and contains a lot more biology, ecology, and science terms — this is for teachers, or parents who want to have a book that will teach kids about biology in an approachable way.”

Both of Watt’s books are available from her website, where teachers can also download free worksheets. Watt says any teacher who wants a free copy of the book can reach out to her through the site.

Strategic Priority: