Lack of oxygen in Gulf of St. Lawrence needs emergency action, says activist

Green Leader Elizabeth May asked for an emergency discussion Tuesday in the House of Commons on the Gulf of St. Lawrence following the release of a report detailing declining oxygen levels in the water. Speaker Geoff Regan turned her down.

Recent study says oxygen levels in the gulf are on the decline

An international study released in September found that oxygen levels in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are rapidly decreasing, threatening marine life in the waters. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

An environmental activist in Merigomish, N.S., believes House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan made a bad call when he turned down a request Tuesday morning to hold an emergency discussion on the environmental state of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

The request was made by Green Leader Elizabeth May in response to a scientific study released in September that said the oxygen levels in the gulf are rapidly decreasing. 

"Fish are like the rest of us, they cannot live without oxygen," said Mary Gorman, founder of the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition.

"And if our Gulf of St. Lawrence waters are deoxygenating, this is an emergency matter."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May requested an emergency discussion in the House of Commons after a report on the deterioration of the water in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (CBC)

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, isn't lightweight commentary.

It was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Spain's Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the European Research Council, and co-authored by researchers from universities such as the University of Washington, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Rhode Island, University of California and Dalhousie University.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Princeton University's national oceanic and atmospheric laboratory were also involved.

The study cites temperature shifts in the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current as a reason for the deoxygenation as warmer water cannot hold as much oxygen. 

May told the House of Commons on Tuesday there could be dire consequences if the issue isn't addressed.

"The emergency is that the death of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is a disaster economically, ecologically and socially," May was quoted as saying in Hansard.

"The terminus of the moment to save it could be as soon as four years from now which requires real action on an emergency basis."

Speaker Geoff Regan said Elizabeth May's request did not meet the criteria for ordering an emergency discussion. (CBC)

Regan responded that May's request did not fit the necessary criteria for Standing Order 52, which would cause an emergency debate to supercede the already planned proceedings of the House. 

He is quoted in Hansard as saying: "I do not find that this, while there is no question it seems to be very important in interest, I do not find that it meets the exigencies of the strict wording of the Standing Order."

Gorman, who has been advocating for the Gulf of St. Lawrence for 30 years, said that response is not responsible. 

'Great, vast toilet'

"If the multibillion-dollar fisheries that feed the coastal economies of half the provinces of this nation, if that doesn't constitute an emergency for the federal government, can they tell me what does?" 

Gorman said it's not just climate change causing the deoxygenation, but industrial plants that "simply treat our ocean like they're a great, vast toilet."

She said she'd like to see the federal government create immediate policies to curtail further degradation. 

"In an ideal world, the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence should be declared a marine-protected region with sustainable fisheries only allowed. And they have to stop with all the reckless pollution."

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Norma Jean MacPhee

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