British Columbia

West Coast ocean fertilization project defended

The leaders of a controversial ocean fertilization project off the west coast of British Columbia say they have not violated any Canadian or international laws.

Dumping iron dust off B.C. coast violated no laws or treaties, leaders say

Iron dust is poured into the Pacific Ocean off the B.C. coast in a controversial experiment. (YouTube)

The leaders of a controversial ocean fertilization project off the west coast of British Columbia say they have not violated  any Canadian or international laws.

In July, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC), in conjunction with American businessman Russ George, dumped about 100 tonnes of iron dust into the Pacific Ocean.

The move, which was intended to stimulate plankton growth and help revive salmon populations, has been widely criticized by scientists as reckless and lacking scientific support.

"We do not consider micronutrient replenishment of a naturally occurring substance to be pollution. We are using this for restoration purposes," HSRC president John Disney told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver on Friday.

On Thursday the Haida Nation Chiefs and Council distanced themselves from the project, saying the consequences of tampering with nature pose unacceptable risks to the ocean.

A spokesman for federal Environment Minister Peter Kent said Friday the project violates the Environmental Protection Act, and that anyone who violates the act should be prosecuted. The spokesman also said project leaders had been warned that dumping the iron contravened international treaties, of which Canada is a signatory, against ocean fertilization for profit.

Environment Canada's enforcement branch says it is investigating the incident.

The company has said it plans to sell carbon credits based on any extra CO2 absorbed by the project. But James Tansey, the CEO of Offsetters, Canada's largest carbon trading company, says it's the kind of project no one would fund.

"We know no one's developed an ocean fertilization protocol yet, and really, until you have that protocol in place, you don't have a credit you can sell onto the market," he said.

Outside of 200-mile limit

Disney has said the project took place outside of Canada's 200-mile territorial limit, and was not large enough in scale to contravene international laws or UN agreements.

"We were outside Canadian waters, therefore we had to deal with a different set of rules and regulations and a different body," Disney said.

"In the area we were operating, my lawyers have, Haida Salmon Restoration and the village council's lawyers have looked extremely carefully at the international laws, and we're fine, they cleared us," Disney told Carol Off, host of CBC Radio's As It Happens.

About 100 tonnes of iron-rich dust were dumped about 300 kilometres off the west coast of Haida Gwaii, creating a plankton bloom that could be seen from space. (Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center)

"They accessed all the UN documents, all the international marine law, and they went through that paragraph by paragraph and they said we were good to go."

Disney said the project was conducted by the HSRC, which was founded and majority-owned by the Old Massett Village Council of Haida Gwaii; the vessel involved was flying an Old Massett flag during the operation.

He also said the Old Massett village council claims aboriginal title beyond Canada's 200-mile territorial limit.

"This research took place within that territory. Because the Old Massett traditional territory doesn't stop at the 200-mile limit, that includes the Haida Ocean, which goes out to wherever they perceive the line to be based on where they sit now in the legal world, which is under aboriginal rights and title."

The company was aided by controversial American businessman Russ George. However, Disney said this wasn't George's project.

"Russ Geoge did not — I say did not — come to us to dupe us or sell us a bill of goods. We approached him," Disney said.

'A ludicrous idea'

Guujaw, the president of the Haida Nation, said the actions and words of the Old Massett village did not reflect those of the Haida Nation.

He said the village is operated as a band council under the federal Indian Act, and that the village could claim to operate outside of Canadian law was "a ludicrous idea."

"The consequences of tampering with nature at this scale are not predictable and pose unacceptable risks to the marine environment," said Guujaw in a statement issued on Thursday.

"Our people along with the rest of humanity depend on the oceans and cannot leave the fate of the oceans to the whim of the few," he said.

Nathan Cullen, the MP who represents Haida Gwaii, says he met with members of the restoration corporation in the summer.

"I never got the sense that they were trying to do harm or that there was any bad intent at all, and felt like they had done their work in terms of talking to marine scientists and lawyers. … They thought they had a defensible case," the NDP MP said.

However, Cullen said the government should have done more to prevent the project, and needs clearer policies in the field of ocean fertilization and geo-engineering.



With files from The Canadian Press