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Monday, September 28, 2015

Clear the Coast 2015

By Karen Wristen

Living Oceans’ 2015 efforts to Clear the Coast of marine debris brought in an amazing five metric tonnes of debris, mainly composed of plastics of Japanese origin. Last year, working on the same Cape Scott beaches, we picked up 2.67 tonnes of plastic from all over the world, with Japanese-labelled items comprising about one-third of the total.

In an effort to put a dent in the enormous volume of plastic waste that is washing up on northern Vancouver Island shores, this year we intensified our efforts with more volunteers on the ground and more ground covered. We organized two major expeditions: the first returned to Sea Otter Cove aboard Paul Ross’s Samphire, and the second ventured into new territory for us in the Scott Islands, from a base camp in San Josef Bay.

Sea Otter Cove, August 17-24

It was delightful to return to Sea Otter Cove—it is such a pretty and secure cove and the weather was full-on summer. Sea otters plied the water daily for food, seemingly undisturbed by our presence; and while wolves and bears were evident, they kept out of sight. Dozens of different birds soared all around us as we worked. The kelp beds at the entrance to the Cove look as healthy and abundant as ever.
A raft of sea otters. Photo: Kari Watkins

Most of our crew camped on shore this year, while I stayed on Samphire to be on hand to get meals for everyone. It was quite the trick, feeding such a large crew from a tiny galley but we worked it in shifts and our volunteers were either very polite or actually impressed by the quality of the food we were able to turn out.

I’d like to say we found Sea Otter Cove clean, after all the work we did last year, but not so: we managed to fill five lift bags with nearly one tonne of debris! We recovered fishnet entangled in hundreds of metres of line that was painstakingly untangled to create bags for lifting large and unwieldy chunks of plastic, while purchased bags made of re-purposed fishnets and others designed specifically for helicopter lifts were used for most of the debris.

We hiked an easy 40-minute trail north over to Lowrie Bay on two days, because there was just so much debris there. Lowrie is a beautiful, deep sandy beach that is wide open to the Pacific, with rocky outcrops on which the waves break dramatically—a surfer’s paradise. It’s also so long that we had to establish two consolidation sites: some of the debris there was far too heavy to move long distances. Large, dense plastic pallets and the ever-present net balls are really challenging to move over soft sand! We packaged everything ready for lifting and left it high above the high tide line.
Net balls wrapped in re-purposed fishing net on the beach at Lowrie Bay.
To the south, the outer beaches of San Josef Bay that can’t be accessed from the Cape Scott trail head were easy to get to from Sea Otter Cove. A marked trail crosses level ground and not 15 minutes’ walking brings you out to the Bay. Last year, a passing family of boaters cleared a stretch of this beach for us and we picked up the debris. This year, you’d be hard-pressed to know it had ever been cleaned: I actually lost count of the number of bags we filled there, and there were multiple strings of fishing floats, tires, plastic jugs and the like that weren’t bagged, but just lifted on a rope.
Clear the Coast volunteers with fishing floats collected from San Josef Bay.

The beach at San Jo was so heavily covered in logs that it was tricky to find an area to consolidate everything for the lift—we either had to carry everything over the pickup-sticks pileup or chance leaving it where the highest tides might still reach. We opted for the latter, but I won’t do that again: when we came back to get it at the end of the next expedition, it was half-buried in a load of seaweed and sand and getting it out was a dirty, smelly proposition!

I missed the voyage to and from Sea Otter on Samphire, as I’d elected to drive to San Jo so that we’d have a vehicle in case of emergency. Our science volunteer, Garth Covernton, accompanied me and so the pair of us had to be shuttled around to San Jo’s inner beach to hike out to the truck. Paul Ross had nearly flipped his inflatable in the surf the day he came to pick us up, so we were cautious about a drop-off point. We chose to land at the second beach, knowing nothing about the trail between there and the trail head. Let’s just say I was not inclined to argue with B.C. Parks’ characterization of it as “treacherous” when I later read the sign at the trail head!

It’s a bone-jarring ride on a logging road from the Cape Scott trail head back to Port Hardy and it’s wise to keep one’s fluids up by stopping at the Scarlet Ibis in Holberg along the way. Legendary fish and chips and the first cold beer to be found outside the Park.

Lanz and Cox Island Provincial Park, September 5-8

Our second expedition was planned to attack the innermost of the Scott Islands group. Last year, our helicopter pilot had told us that the islands were choked with debris and she was right! This trip had to be done by helicopter because the waters are so dangerous and we needed large numbers of volunteers to do the work in a single day—or so we thought.
Karen Wristen among the jagged rocks on the beach at Cox Island.

We established a base camp on the beach at San Jo Bay, with 18 of us in tents and a cook tent rigged up over a helpfully large root ball buried in the sand. I have to mention the 45-minute trail down which we’d had to bring enough food and supplies for 18 people for four days—my partner Jasper and I using wheelbarrow and dolly, and volunteer Michael Neate using his bicycle trailer sans bicycle (they’re not allowed in the park) barely managed it. Sure, it’s wheelchair accessible; it’s also one of those trails that gets longer and hillier every time you do it!

We hired West Coast Helicopters to take us out to the Island in teams of four or five people per beach. We’d hoped to be able to hop from beach to beach and do a couple each, but found so much debris that we could have spent more than the hours we had just cleaning the three we chose to start with. We also found that, at low tide and in calm weather, there would have been no problem camping overnight on at least two of the beaches, so we could have planned a more extended cleanup.

I worked with Terry and Eric Grantner and Michael Neat on the first beach on which we landed a crew. Within three hours, we had bagged up four lift bags, one net bag and a huge string of floats. The helicopter returned with its hook on and removed our bags in two lifts. At this point, Mother Nature began interfering with our plans. When the helicopter returned, there was no hook in sight and we knew something was wrong. We climbed aboard and learned from our pilot, Paul Smith, that the weather was closing in fast and worse—he’d found his spare fuel contaminated with water. Facing two uncertainties, he’d elected to get the crews out as fast as possible. Looking at the ugly, dark cloud closing in from the north as we headed back to San Jo, I was happy for his good judgment!

Unfortunately, we’d been unable to communicate with one another on the VHF radios we’d brought—the headlands between the beaches were too much of a barrier. Each crew could communicate with the helicopter when it was within range, but that didn’t give the other two crews enough warning to be able to secure their bags to shore to await a later pickup. We were all concerned that a high tide would float them out, posing a hazard to navigation and to wildlife that might become entangled in the ropes securing the bags to one another. We waited uneasily through a drizzly night to find out what the morning would bring.

The next day must have dawned—the fog got brighter, at least—and I was certainly not expecting the helicopter that landed about 10:30 with the news that we could try to lift out some of the bags from the first expedition. Lanz and Cox were out of the question, however; a blank wall of sea fog obscured them from view.

Jodie, Michael and I were off to tend the lifts within minutes. We managed to get everything out of San Jo and all but one bag from Sea Otter before the pilot had to leave for another job. That left the Lowrie, Sea Otter and Cox Island loads stranded; we were out of budget and out of time with this crew of volunteers.

I have to break the continuity here to recall some acts of exceptional heroism. One of the net bags that left Sea Otter Cove looked like trouble from the minute it left the beach—the load of irregularly shaped plastics had become hung up in the net and wasn’t sitting in the bottom of it the way it should. That would place undue stress on the net and I feared it would tear. It didn’t; but what did happen was that the load fell into the bottom of the net and snapped the rope from which it was hanging just as the helicopter passed over our campsite!

Taking nothing away from the effort that everyone put into this expedition, I have to say that Marten Sims deserves special mention for getting into the water in San Jo Bay on a cool September day to attach a line to the bag. Nigel Marshall, too; when the line Marten was carrying proved too short for the job, he waded in behind Marten and between them, they recovered the bag intact. He, Wesley Piatocka and Cassy Bergeron packed the load out to the bins at the trailhead using the wheelbarrow and trailer, in two trips that left them exhausted. Kudos to them and to everyone who helped plan the recovery, warm up the swimmers and break down the load for packing out!

We packed up camp on the morning of September 8th. Returning to Sointula, I called Coast Guard to report a potential hazard to navigation, put out an urgent call for funding and a media release and began appealing to the public for help. And that’s where the amazing things started happening...

The Third Expedition

First, the Vancouver Aquarium called to say they had a little bit of tsunami debris funding left and they could help. On the strength of that and some generous donations from our supporters, I booked a helicopter and debris bins for the weekend of Sept 19th and 20th. Michael Neat and Jodie Bergeron volunteered to join me, as we expected to find our bags scattered by the tides and needing some man-handling to get them into position for lifting.

Just before I left, the Canadian Wildlife Service called to say they could purchase some helicopter time for us. And while I was up island waiting on the weather (again), the Cape Scott Wind farm called to say they would donate two hours’ of helicopter time. And then the sun came out, against all predictions.

We still ended up having to do the work over two days, when Saturday dawned quite soggy. The ceiling was high enough despite the rain, so we flew from West Coast’s Port McNeill base to our first stop near Hanson’s Lagoon, where I’d agreed to look for the kit of a shipwrecked sailor who had contacted me that week. He’d provided co-ordinates, so it took no time to locate the wreck and salvage his dry bags. The wreckage was too large to contemplate moving, so we stowed it above the high tide line.
Shipwrecked sailboat near Hanson's Lagoon.

From there, we hooked up the bags at Lowrie Bay with no difficulty. The helicopter was a while coming back, though; and when it did, our pilot said the ceiling was lowering and so he’d hooked up the load at Sea Otter himself and dropped it; we were heading home. It was the lowest flying I ever hope to do, but very instructive: we were able to take a good, close look at all the pocket beaches south of Cape Scott and every one is full of debris!

Sunday, the weather forecast changed dramatically and we were off—driving to San Jo Bay one more time. The pilot needed to sling fuel out to San Jo in order to be sure of having enough for the job, so we could not fly with him. We arranged to meet at the San Jo parking lot—if we were needed. Mike Aldersey, the base manager, was flying this job himself and he felt it would be most efficient if he went out alone and did the hookup. We were there as backup, if it proved we were needed to move the bags about.

It did turn out that we were needed—after the first load, Mike landed to explain he had to have someone on the ground to help with the rest. But his helicopter was showing a warning light and we’d have to wait for another one from McNeill. That meant another pilot, who could be with Mike in the helicopter while they flew a load in—something he can’t legally do with passengers. We had to decide between doing two trips—one for passengers and one for debris—or letting them handle it themselves. Naturally we opted for the most efficient approach, although not without regret that we wouldn’t see Cox Island again this year.
Marine debris in a bin.

We stayed to see two more 30-yard bins filled with the remaining debris, making four in total that we’d recovered. To give you an idea of the volume that represents, I figure I could park two of my Honda Civics in a bin lengthwise, and open the doors right up without touching the sides. They’re about eight feet tall. Stacked two and two, they’d be about the size of a small two-storey house. It’s amazing to think we recovered that much with the work of about 20 people over seven collection days; more amazing still to realize that there is easily 20 times that much still out there on Cox, Lanz and Vancouver Islands.

Jodie Bergeron, Michael Neat, Ross Weaver and I sorted that last load for recyclables at the 7-Mile Landfill the next day. Thanks to the Regional District of Mount Waddington, we were not required to pay the tipping fees and received an accurate, weigh-scale total for our labours.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Salmon in the Kitchen

If you love eating salmon but aren’t too sure about preparing it yourself, then you should sign up for the Salmon in the Kitchen workshops that Living Oceans is hosting this summer in Vancouver. You’ll get a hands-on opportunity to cook, fillet and can fresh salmon under the guidance of expert chefs. Included in the cost of each workshop are the salmon supplied by Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery delivered fresh off the boat right into downtown Vancouver. You get to take the filleted/cooked/canned fish home with you.

Learning to fillet salmon.
Learning to fillet salmon. Photo: Sonia Strobel

Workshop details

Register online for the workshops
A hands-on workshop that covers the basics and foundations of how to cook with salmon. Recipes will be different for each workshop. The workshop will include tastings for all participants and attendees will be sent home with copies of the recipes.
Maximum 8 participants per workshop. $52* per person per class.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 18, 6:00 – 9:00 pm at Save On Meats, 43 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
  • Tuesday, Sept. 15, 6:00 – 9:00 pm at Save On Meats, 43 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
Buying whole fish is often the most economical, as long as you don’t butcher the fish! Come master your knife skills in this hands-on workshop where you will get to fillet your own fish and vacuum seal it to bring it home.
Maximum 8 participants per workshop. $57* per person per class.
  • Thursday, June 25, 6:00 – 8:00 pm at Save On Meats, 43 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
  • Thursday, July 16, 6:00 – 8:00 pm Save On Meats, 43 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
Canning salmon is one of the best ways to preserve the ocean’s bounty for the winter months and this demo-style workshop will teach you all the tricks of using a pressure canner. Workshop participants will take home a step-by-step salmon canning guide and a small jar of canned salmon.
Maximum 12 participants per workshop. $32* per person per class.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 29, 6:00 – 8:00 pm at Save On Meats, 43 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
SmokingThere will also be two salmon smoking demo-style workshops in the fall. Details coming soon.
*$2 from the registration fee will go towards supporting ‘train-the-trainer’ workshops at local community kitchen spaces to help increase cooking skills and capacity in vulnerable populations.

Skipper Otto’s first started teaching people how to prepare salmon at Fisherman’s Wharf at Granville Island in Vancouver. Year after year the workshops have grown in popularity as people get more interested in eating locally and preparing their own gourmet meals. This year, they’re being held at the Save On Meats Community Kitchen at 43 W. Hastings.

Doris Gnandt and Serena Chu will be the chefs guiding the workshop with Doris handling the cooking and filleting and Serena taking care of the canning sessions.
Doris GnandtSerena Chu
Doris Gnandt (left) believes you should cook from the heart and it shows in her filleting and cooking demos. Serena Chu (right) likes to make things that are irresistibly tasty but actually healthy!

Skipper Otto’s filleter extraordinaire Rumi Hokubay practices the traditional Japanese method of filleting called San-Mai Ni Orosu. Participants in the Filleting Salmon workshops will get to fillet their own fish, vacuum seal it and bring it home!

The Salmon in the Kitchen workshop series creates community around—and awareness of—our local fisheries. Most of the fresh, local, sustainable fish caught by fishermen on the South Coast is exported or sent directly to high-end restaurants. As a result, over 80% of the seafood bought in Vancouver is imported. By teaching people the skills and knowledge about local seafood and how to handle it, we increase the value of the fishery to the local community. This in turn makes the local seafood supply chain more resilient and lends to increased food security in our community.

The workshops aren’t all work though. There’s a lot of fun involved too. And food. If you attend the Cooking with Salmon workshop don’t eat a big dinner beforehand, as you’ll need a good appetite to taste the recipes you’ll be cooking.

canned salmon
At the Canning with Salmon workshop participants will learn the basics of how to use a pressure canner, receive a step-by-step guide to reference later, and be able to take home one jar of canned salmon. Photo: Wendy Davis

We are grateful to our local partners and sponsor – Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery, Save on Meats, Vancity enviroFund, and the Vancouver Foundation Greenest City Fund.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Take a deep breath, take pride and then take action

By Karin Bodtker

Today, on Oceans Day, I invite you to think about your connection to the ocean. Everyone has a connection to the ocean. For me the ocean is deep—in more ways that one! When I was in my early twenties and lived close to beach, a solo walk along the seashore would allow me to revel in my emotions—which were dynamic, intense, pushing and pulling me one way and another. Perhaps the action of the waves soaked up some of the intensity (as I said, I was in my early twenties) and I felt able to carry on.

These days I think my connection has a much more scientific edge to it (this is safer territory). I know that Canada’s ocean ‘estate’ is roughly 70% as big as its land-based estate. As Canadians, we can certainly be proud of the magnitude of our oceans and the awe inspiring seascapes that surround our country. No matter where we live in Canada, rivers and waterways connect all our homes to one of Canada’s three oceans.

Now take a deep breath and say a word of thanks to the ocean. Every other breath you take comes from the ocean because the oceans’ plants produce half of the world’s oxygen. That’s a pretty necessary connection for all of us. How do we ensure this connection persists and our oceans stay healthy? One way is through Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MPAs are ocean places that are set aside like parks, providing sanctuary for individual species and entire food-webs so they can recover and thrive. They’re like an insurance policy. Take a moment to tour a few protected areas (one in each province) that showcase some of Canada’s spectacular wildlife and connect us to the oceans. Revel in the beauty, feel the pride; after all, it’s Oceans Day!
Connecting Canadians is our new interactive map that shows how the ocean touches every province and territory in Canada. Healthy oceans matter in Eyebrow, Saskatchewan... and everywhere else in Canada, too!

Currently, only 3.4% of the global ocean is in protected areas, compared to 15.4% of the world’s terrestrial and inland water areas. However, it’s higher (8.4%) if you consider only marine areas within national jurisdiction (e.g., exclusive economic zones)1. When we look at Canada’s record, we get a bit of a shock – less than 1% of Canada’s oceans are protected. Still proud of Canada? Browse through our new maps to see all the MPAs or check the protection status for each of Canada’s 12 marine bioregions.

What about connections between protected areas? That’s the way to really make protected areas efficient; build a network. In 2011, Canada released a National Framework for Canada's Network of Marine Protected Areas, a document to guide design of networks of MPAs. That was four years ago, and guess where all the newly designed networks are? Nowhere. That’s right, no networks completed yet. Where’s your sense of pride now?

A few days ago, Living Oceans along with five other conservation organizations, delivered a set of MPA recommendations to every single Member of our Parliament. We are urging the federal government to step up the pace on marine protection. This Oceans Day, please take action and add your name to the list of those who support a more robust insurance policy for our oceans.

1. These stats come from the Protected Planet Report of 2014 from the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), so I trust them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

English Bay Oil Spill Response is Instructive

The grain freighter Marathassa at anchor in English Bay, surrounded by a boom the day after it leaked an estimated 2,700 litres of bunker fuel into the ocean.
If you ever wondered what the federal government really meant by “World Class” oil spill response, now you know. The English Bay spill on April 8 proved out a lot of the criticisms that Living Oceans has been making about spill preparedness in B.C, yet to listen to federal government pronouncements, you’d think the response was perfection itself. This, then, is a world class spill response.

The Coast Guard has spared no effort to praise its own efforts and those of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, the oil-company owned outfit contracted to pick up the oil. Commissioner Jody Thomas in “enormously pleased”; Assistant Commissioner Roger Girouard says the response was by the book and advised the CBC on April 11 that only about six litres of oil remained in English Bay. Girouard maintained that 80% of the oil had been cleaned up by skimmers working the water’s surface. "You don't contain 80 per cent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate," he said. "I will not accept that definition of my team."

On the response time, Commissioner Thomas was very specific: "Within 25 minutes of notification, we were on the water. And with [Western Canada Marine Response Corporation], we worked through the night to skim the water and boom the ship."

The only statement above that is entirely correct and complete is that the response was by the book, which is to say that the WCMRC was on the scene with recovery equipment within the time prescribed by Transport Canada. From the handbook: “[I]n Port Metro Vancouver it is required that WCMRC maintain a dedicated package of equipment that is capable of responding to a 150 tonne spill within 6 hours.” The fact that they didn’t actually deploy their booms until somewhere between midnight and 2:00 a.m. takes them a little outside that response time, but hey, they couldn’t figure out where the oil was coming from.

Clearly, a textbook spill response will result in the oiling of Vancouver’s beaches, as it has here. This was said to be a two-tonne spill (2700 litres); Kinder Morgan’s idea of a “credible worst case” spill is 10,000 tonnes, just to put the question of beach oiling in perspective.

But what about the size of the spill and the “80% cleanup”? By April 13, Coast Guard was admitting that the spill size estimate they were using was a conservative estimate made by flying over the area to determine the spill’s visible dimensions and multiplying that by estimated spill thickness. That sounds quite reasonable, unless you knew from the time of the initial report at 5:05 p.m. on Wednesday that much of the oil was already under water and thus invisible from the air.

Rob O’Dea, a sailor who reported the spill, said, “… it was an oil slick about ½ km long and 250 m wide. The surface was covered with a blue sheen and just beneath the surface there were globules of oil by the thousands per square metre. They were within the top few inches of the water… Some were the size of a pea, many were the size of a fist.”

And where was it coming from? Rob apparently had no difficulty figuring that out: “When we passed by the stern of the offending freighter there were larger, sticky globs of black goo a meter long and as thick as your arm. Oil was everywhere at and below the surface. The crew of the ship were madly trying to load 50 gallon drums from a small boat onto the ship while at the same time they were dropping small pails over the side of the ship and hauling up water. It was a keystone cops kind of scene and the Port Metro boat passed by in close proximity but did not intervene.” (That Port Metro boat is apparently the one that “we” had on the water “within 25 minutes”; Rob says it showed up about 6 pm. WCMRC wasn’t there at 8 pm when he decided to go in.)

Unconfined oil will spread to a thickness of about 0.4 mm. Sticky globs of black goo a metre long and as thick as your arm don’t. Yet there was Girouard, insisting that “physics tells us that it will float” (a direct quote, by the way, from one of Enbridge’s experts at the hearings on the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings) and reporting on the reductions in surface oil as if it were all that required response.

The truth is that nobody will ever accurately estimate how much oil spilled, given that within a very short time after the spill, so much of it submerged beneath the water’s surface. The water in English Bay right now will be low in salinity and high in suspended particles because of the plume coming out of the Fraser River and those are the ideal conditions for sinking the oil into the water column, perhaps even to the bottom. We may be finding tarballs from this spill washing ashore for years to come.

As recently as two years ago, Coast Guard had a dedicated spill response vessel and a trained crew at the [former] Kitsilano base who, according to retired Coast Guard Capt. Tony Toxopeus, could have responded within an hour and perhaps contained the surface spill before it hit the beaches. “They’re downplaying it to such a degree it’s shameful, it’s terrible, it’s dishonest,” Toxopeus said.

“There was a 40-foot boat that was purpose built for oil pollution response,” said Toxopeus, adding the base also had 150 metres of Kepner self-inflating boom, 150 metres of 24-inch fence boom, 30 metres of oil absorbant boom, a skimmer and absorbant pads. “That was probably the best equipped station on the B.C. coast.”

Even that equipment would have been inadequate to respond to submerged oil, which could pass under the floating booms and travel with the current. Note that this was bunker C oil, carried by nearly every vessel in the Port. It’s much like the bitumen that Kinder Morgan wants to ship—a heavy oil, given to forming dense, sticky mats and globs, rather than just spreading on the surface.

In summary, “World Class” oil spill response apparently means critically disabling the ability of Coast Guard to respond to spills in the harbour of the B.C. city most liable to experience an oil spill and denying that you did so; handing the task over to a corporation owned by the oil companies themselves; and legislating response times that are clearly inadequate to protect the Greenest City from beach oiling. Add in the power of the federal government’s communications machine to spin the facts—80% recovery, 25 minutes to have “a boat in the water” and “physics tells us it will float”—and repeat ad nauseum that you’re doing an excellent job.

I don’t buy it and judging by the public response, neither do most in Vancouver.

Friday, March 13, 2015

MPAs Work Together for Healthy Oceans and Communities

Canada is part of a global effort to ensure that at least 10% of our oceans are in marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020, but we currently only protect 1.3% of our total ocean estate. MPAs are management areas that are put in place to protect species, habitat, and heritage sites—like the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia. They are a designated place in the ocean where human activities are regulated and restricted to reduce our impact on the ocean and coastline.

MPAs can have different designs, protection levels and management structures. The most effective ocean conservation areas around the world have high human use restrictions but the level of use in them can vary. For example, one MPA may not allow any human entry at all, while another may allow ecotourism activities like kayaking and diving, but no extractive activities such as fishing. In order for these regulations to work, there must be effective enforcement of the rules by authority figures like park wardens or fisheries officers. MPAs should ideally be large in size, but sizes may vary depending on which habitat or animal is in need of protection. Research has shown that the most successful MPAs have been established for a long time, since it can take decades for animals and habitats to reproduce and thrive. They also tend to do best when set in an isolated place away from human pressures and conflicts. Understandably, some MPAs can’t have all of these features but we must aim for as many as possible in order to effectively protect the marine environment. When successful MPAs are put in place, they conserve our oceans and help maintain and improve the coastal economies that rely on them.

A couple of great examples of MPAs in British Columbia are the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents Marine Protected Area and the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site. It’s wonderful that B.C. has some marine protected areas but it’s not enough. Currently less than 3% of B.C.’s marine environment is protected. We need more parks. In fact, we need an entire network of MPAs.

Recently, the federal government released the Canada – British Columbia Marine Protected Area Network Strategy which provides guidance for the design of marine protected areas along the Pacific coast, and is a step towards increasing Canada’s current level of marine protection. A network of MPAs is a collection of different sized parks with various levels of protection that are spaced close enough to one another to allow marine species to move between them. Studies from around the world have shown that networks of ocean parks can provide benefits to entire marine ecosystems while also balancing important social, economic and cultural human needs.

Not only would the entire Pacific marine ecosystem off the coast of B.C. benefit from a network of MPAs but so would the coastal communities that rely on the ocean. Benefits would include more local and sustainable jobs on the coast, better food security, protection of recreational, heritage and traditional sites, as well as increased ocean conservation and education about the marine environment.

Although the federal government has released an MPA network strategy for B.C., we need to see movement towards establishing these parks. The province and participating First Nations are already on their way to releasing and implementing marine plans for part of the B.C. coast, through the co-lead Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) planning process. Set to be released later this spring, these marine plans are a solid basis for the Canadian government to work off of to begin establishing a network of federal MPAs in B.C. Taking the research and recommended marine protection areas from the MaPP plans and enhancing them to the federal level will ensure that MPAs are established to maintain and improve what is needed for healthy oceans and coastal communities and begin building a better future for our coast.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cohen Commission recommendations gather dust while salmon farm applications keep on coming

By now there must be half an inch of dust atop the Cohen Commission’s report on the plight of the Fraser River sockeye as it languishes on some forgotten bookshelf in an Ottawa backroom. How else to explain the total disregard for the commission’s findings? Surely the salmon farmers’ recollections of Justice Cohen’s recommendations have grown hazy since 2012 when the findings were released. Stewart Hawthorn, the Managing Director of Grieg Seafood BC, wrote in a letter to the Campbell River Mirror that the Cohen report “provides further evidence that salmon farming and wild salmon stocks can live well together.” Well, not quite. The government closed the Discovery Islands to increased finfish aquaculture until at least 2020 due to concerns that open net-pen salmon farms were impacting Fraser River sockeye migrating through this area.

No matter. Mr. Hawthorn’s letter was an invitation to an open house his company was holding to promote two new salmon farm applications in Clio Channel in the Broughton Archipelago. The Discovery Islands are immediately south of the Broughton; the same fish pass through both areas. The letter invited readers “to come and meet our staff, ask questions and provide comments.”
Proposed site of new Grieg Seafood salmon farms.
On the afternoon of February 10th over 70 people from the small village of Sointula decided to take Mr. Hawthorn up on his offer. They got into a whale watching boat and crossed Broughton Strait to stand shoulder to shoulder in a small room in a Port McNeill hotel where Grieg Seafood was holding the open house. Also at the open house were representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the British Columbia government. I wouldn’t go so far as to say things got out of hand, but the Sointulians were not pleased about the idea of Grieg cramming about one million farmed salmon into 26 net-cages, each measuring three by 30 metres, into a channel less than 1.5 km wide that serves as a migration route for wild salmon smolts heading to the ocean.
The Grieg Seafood open house in Port McNeill was well attended by coastal residents opposed to more open net-cage salmon farms.
Maybe Mr. Hawthorn’s staff weren’t expecting folks would actually show up to get a few things off their chests. But there are a lot of people in the Broughton that depend on a healthy ocean to make their living. And there are already 29 open net-cage salmon farms in the archipelago dumping feces, fish food and sea lice into the ocean. People from Sointula know what the score is and what’s at stake.

One fishermen at the meeting asked why Grieg was allowed to kill off the wild salmon for free. Another pointed out that the existing farms are essentially unregulated by DFO. Someone else pointed out that the drugs Grieg uses to kill sea lice in the farms also kill prawns and shrimp. A nearby lodge owner said that the farms are turning the area into an industrial zone. You get the idea. One woman summed the mood up nicely: “Put your damned farms on land or go back to Norway!”

Now you can weigh in too. Here’s the situation in a nutshell. Grieg Seafood want to convert two shellfish aquaculture tenures to salmon farms. No environmental impact assessment of the two new farms has been done, even though finfish farms have very different impacts from shellfish farms. This is the first time that the salmon farming industry has asked to transfer tenures from shellfish to finfish. If they are granted approval it could open the floodgates to other shellfish tenures being converted to salmon farms—and there are a lot of unused shellfish tenures on the B.C. coast right now.

The proposed salmon farms are close to intertidal shellfish beds that are exposed to water flows from the farms. These clam beds are important to First Nations and others in the area.
We have reviewed the applications and feel strongly that they should not be approved for a number of reasons including that they do not comply with the government’s own criteria:
  • The farms would be too close to salmon bearing streams, vital herring spawning areas, and shellfish beds. 
  • They are also in close proximity to not only one another but also an already established salmon farm  at Bennett Point, which could create navigational issues in Clio Channel.
DFO admits there are gaps in its knowledge regarding finfish aquaculture, such as the effects from pesticides, antifoulants, disinfectants, drugs within feces and risk of pathogen transfer to wild fish. Herring spawning in this area are vital to the rich ecosystem, supporting whales, seals, birds, fish, etc. that in turn support the economies of Sointula and other northern Vancouver Island communities with industries like wildlife viewing, kayaking, boating, diving as well as recreational and commercial fishing.

We’ve laid out our argument in an action alert on the Living Oceans web site. You’ll see links there to the B.C. government’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations web site where you can submit your thoughts about Grieg’s new farms before February 24th. You can also send a message to Grieg from the action alert directly if you’d like to get a few things off your chest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Sort the Wheat from the Chaff in the High-Stakes Game of Canadian Voter Approval

The next few months should see a marked increase in the amount of media coverage and advertising attacking opponents of pipeline and tanker projects, according to leaked documents obtained by our colleagues at Greenpeace.  “Promote. Respond. Pressure,” reads the 3-part strategy of U.S. public relations firm Edelman, whose leaked strategy for increasing Canadians’ acceptance of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline includes the creation of fake grassroots groups in support of the pipeline and a variety of tactics to divert the resources of opponents from the issues.

Edelman’s point person on the file is D.C.-based Michael Krempasky, whose past works include promoting the U.S. “Tea Party”, Walmart and the Koch brothers’ interests in general. Other team members include some of the brains behind climate change denial propaganda. It is not surprising that the techniques to watch for will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the above campaigns:

1) Astroturfing:  Jargon for the creation of fake grassroots support groups, this technique has been employed in countless campaigns in Canada and the U.S.  Look for groups with names like, “Canadians for Job Security” or “Families for the Future”; names seeking to evoke immediate identification with shared Canadian values.  If the message sounds oddly supportive of the petrostate, check to see who funds the group and when they were started.  Real grassroots groups usually tell you this on their websites.

2) Third party endorsements:  Sadly, they’re going to try to use university professors, again (borrowed tactic from the tobacco lobby). When tobacco propaganda was at its zenith, it was almost impossible to tell who was on the payroll—that only came out later.  New voices entering the public debate, especially to criticize the work of civil society organizations speaking out against tarsands development, should be carefully scrutinized to see if that person has a credible history of research and publication on the subject.

3) Diversion tactics: The most effective, in terms of wasting scarce charitable resources, are lawsuits and complaints to regulatory authorities such as Revenue Canada. Since the federal government is currently all tooled up for extra auditing of charities, I would expect a few complaints to be filed.  Lawsuits such as the one recently filed by Kinder Morgan against activists on Burnaby Mountain are also often effective in suppressing criticism and wearing down the opposition.

It is no co-incidence that this campaign is set to roll out in advance of the Canadian federal election next year. With the dollar plummeting along with the price of oil, there will be a concerted effort to convince Canadian voters that the petrostate is not the cause of the problem, but our salvation. Come what may, consider the source and follow the money.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Simushir: Lessons Learned?

By Karen Wristen

I was glued to the computer all weekend, watching the agonizingly slow progress of the tugs steaming out to the west coast of Haida Gwaii, to rescue the disabled container ship Simushir. Early Friday, it was reported that the ship had lost power only 19 nautical miles off the coast of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Cultural Area, in heavy seas with winds gusting up to 75 kph.

The National Park Reserve is one of this coast’s treasures. From an ecological perspective, it is an area of incredible biodiversity. Off the west coast, the ocean floor drops away sharply to depths of over 760 meters, while near shore, the continental shelf is home to rich kelp forests and eelgrass beds. These two, quite different ecosystems existing in such proximity mean the region is home to creatures from the deepest ocean right through to the skies—millions of seabirds either live there or use it as a rest stop in their long migrations.
Map of Haida Gwaii habitats at risk

The sad legacy of past oil spills is that we’re learning more every day about how oil affects different species and the news is not good. The iconic oiled seabird is just the tip of the iceberg: long term and genetic damage has now been linked to oil exposures for species as diverse as birds, otters and whales. There was a lot riding on the wind and waves this weekend; and on the progress of the several tugs headed for the Simushir.

The Simushir was carrying about 400 tonnes of bunker C fuel as well as some diesel. That’s not much, compared with the supertankers that are proposed for this coast; but it was still enough to lay waste to the west coast of Haida Gwaii. Carried along on the Alaska current, the oil would have worked its way northward, oiling steep rocky shores and the innumerable inlets and bays along this rugged coast.

Russian-flagged container ship Simushir was first reported adrift 19 km off Gowgaia Bay, South Moresby Island (Gwaii Haanas). Photo: DND Pacific Maritime Command

“Cleanup” would have been impossible in these conditions—with 4-6 meter seas and high winds, none of the conventional oil spill response equipment could have been deployed effectively. Booms would have been useless against the waves crashing ashore. Most of the oil would come ashore, fouling habitat before anything could be done. The area is far too remote and rugged to contemplate deploying crews to attempt to remove oil from the rocks and beaches.

Against this scenario, the Simushir was helpless. The nearest tug proved, happily, to be just 17 hours away and that was the Coast Guard’s Gordon Reid—a patrol vessel underpowered to tow a vessel the size of Simushir. And remember, Simushir is less than a third the size of a supertanker. The Gordon Reid might have been anywhere on the coast that day; it is pure luck that it was in Hartley Bay.
The Gordon Reid

I have nothing but respect and gratitude for what the crew of the Gordon Reid accomplished, with an underpowered boat and tow lines too light for the job. In that awful weather, they managed to get tow lines aboard the Simushir on three separate occasions, only to see them snap under the enormous strain of wind and waves. Nevertheless, they managed to put a little more sea room between the ship and shore, giving the crew some respite from an experience that was surely harrowing.

Still, the Canadian boats were forced to stand by and watch, waiting for an American commercial tug to put the vessel under tow. It was again pure luck that the tug Barbara Foss was heading into Prince Rupert when the emergency unfolded: the tug is usually stationed in Juan de Fuca Strait. Had it not been for this good fortune, the Simushir would have had to await a rescue tug from Alaska.
The Barbara Foss

Leaving Rupert by mid-day Friday, the Barbara Foss encountered Hecate Strait on one of its bad days: 6-8 meter waves and a southeast wind that blew fitfully in the 30-40 knot range, according to Environment Canada. It took the high-powered tug until Sunday to reach the drifting vessel and during all of that time, the Simushir remained at risk from a change in the wind.

A south or southeast wind was keeping the Simushir offshore for most of Friday, but when storms of this intensity blow through they generally bring changing wind patterns. A shift to westerly was predicted and that would have driven the ship toward shore. Depending on wind speed, the Gordon Reid might, or might not, have been able to keep her off the rocks. The best they’d been able to do when towing with the wind was 1.5-2 knots. It’s unlikely that they’d have made any headway at all towing against the wind.

Tugs like the Barbara Foss are expensive and the crew’s training is highly specialized for ocean rescue and ship salvage. In years past, it may have been good sense for Canada to rely on our neighbour to provide rescue services—they were the ones with the commercial vessel traffic that needed the rescue capacity and so why not let them pay for it, and borrow it when needed? But the volume of shipping passing through Canadian waters has increased dramatically over the past decade and capacity to respond to it has not. If anything, capacity has been decreased by federal cuts to Coast Guard.

To be clear, we have never had towing capacity for ships of the size that now regularly ply our waters. Response times being what they are from the U.S., it is now clear that we need that capacity. It’s also clear that we need some public dialogue on where to locate any new tug. I would vote for Haida Gwaii—it’s right on the shipping route and closest to the worst waters on our coast.

In addition to a salvage tug, we need:
  • Agreement on “places of refuge”—protected areas where ships in distress can shelter, potentially putting those areas at risk of a spill;
  • A legislated zone of protection, through which ships do not pass—wide enough to ensure that if they lose power like the Simushir did, they cannot drift into shore before a tug can get to them;
  • Investment in recruitment and training for coast guard rescue capacity; and
  • A ban on oil tankers on the North Coast.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New ways to pay for MPAs

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are ocean places that are set aside like parks and are one of the most effective methods to conserve and protect the ocean. MPAs provide sanctuary for sea life so that food-webs can recover and thrive. When planned and managed effectively, MPAs shield ecosystems from harmful human practices such as destructive fishing practices, offshore oil and gas drilling and other industrial activities; coastal and estuarine areas serve as carbon sinks that can mitigate the impacts of climate change; they benefit the economies of coastal communities through businesses such as marine tourism and sustainable fisheries.

If we hope to keep benefiting from the ocean and its resources then we need to come up with ways to pay for the cost of establishing and managing MPAs over the long term.

Canada falls short

Canada maintains an international commitment through the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect ten percent of our national waters. Yet nationally, only one percent of our oceans and Great Lakes fall within a federally designated MPAs; on Canada’s Pacific coast, slightly more than three percent of the ocean is protected by MPAs.

In 2013 the Green Budget coalition estimated that the Government of Canada needed to invest a minimum of $35 million every year for three years in order to establish MPAs in five percent of Canada’s oceans. In June 2014 the government countered with a one-time investment of $37m to establish MPAs on all three coasts. Clearly there is a significant gap between the funds the federal government is willing to invest in MPAs and what is required to keep our oceans healthy and coastal communities prosperous.

Financing options for MPAs

Without government funding for MPAs, where will the money come from to support and maintain health oceans? Other countries have experimented with innovative financing mechanisms in support of marine protected areas and with enormous potential benefits at stake, Canada should be open to evaluating alternate financing models too.

Living Oceans evaluated a handful of supplementary or alternate financing options. These alternate models include:
•    public private partnerships
•    private donations
•    user fees
•    payments for ecosystem services
•    community-based management
•    selling offsets

All of these alternate funding strategies have potential to contribute to the protection of Canada’s oceans—but many of them have significant costs too. All of them require a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis before being proposed or adopted as financing tools for specific MPAs in Canada.

To find out more about the MPA funding options please download our new report: Sustainable Financing Options for a Marine Protected Area Network in British Columbia.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Swipe at Charities

This time it’s the Province of B.C. trying to gag us, with a new “Societies Act” containing a section that invites anyone to sue us if they think we’re not acting in the public interest.

Acting in the public interest is not actually my job. Mine is to advocate for protection for the ocean and for communities that depend on ocean resources. I happen to think that this is in the broader public interest as well; but the folks who want to send oil tankers through the 4th most dangerous body of water in the world probably don’t agree. Prime Minister Harper certainly doesn’t agree. And like it or not, for the moment, he’s the guy who actually does get to say what the public interest in oil tankers is. Come election time, we all get to tell him if he was right or not.
The people who definitely don’t get to say what the public interest is are the ones who are looking to profit from endangering public resources, like the ocean. But they are the ones most likely to take up this new invitation to sue.

When I worked as an environmental lawyer, I reviewed dozens of lawsuits against everyday citizens and non-profit societies who were speaking out effectively against development proposals or in favour of regulation of industry. Many of these were clearly what are called “SLAPP suits”: strategic lawsuits against public participation.  Advocacy chill is their purpose; they achieve this by grinding meritless cases through the courts, costing valuable charitable dollars and time and usually, along the way, getting a court order preventing the defendant from continuing to speak out.

One thing that SLAPP suits always suffer from is a shortage of really good law to hang their hats on—it’s hard to accuse someone of a civil wrong when all they’re doing is exercising the right of free speech. Most of the suits allege some kind of slander or libel; some use more complex and arcane law. This proposed provision of the new Societies Act is like a gift: here’s your civil wrong and it’s so vaguely worded that you can be in court for years, grinding away at those nasty activists.

The worst thing about the new section, though, is that it seeks to take the determination of what is in the public interest out of the public domain, where it belongs. Governments are supposed to make that determination, based on what they hear from the many voices advocating their own views of public interest. They are accountable to the electorate for whatever they deem to be in the public interest. Under this new proposal, a judge would be asked to decide what is in the public interest, based on whatever evidence the person who sues chooses to bring forward, and whatever evidence the non-profit being sued can gather to respond to it.

Let’s just sketch that out. Say, for example, Enbridge decides to sue Living Oceans, saying that its Northern Gateway pipeline is in the public interest and our advocacy against it offends this new rule.  Enbridge gives the court its deeply flawed economic analysis and magic job numbers, says “health care and education” about a thousand times, points out that I drive a car and rests its case. Living Oceans can’t actually afford to hire an economist to counter the economic evidence, so we respond with what we have: the scientific evidence that ocean ecosystems do not recover from oil spills in places where highly toxic oil continues to enter the environment, as it would do if the weathered, diluted bitumen were to sink to the ocean floor.

Now how is a judge to determine whether or not we were acting in the public interest based on that evidence? What of the First Nations’ rights and title, the opposition of the labour movement, the views of local communities, farmers and ranchers; or for that matter, the health care and education administrators who are apparently going to see all that Enbridge tax revenue pouring into their coffers? Do we invite them all into the courtroom to say their piece, or do we just ask the government to say what they deem the public interest to be in this case?

If we just ask the government to tell the court what’s in the public interest, then free speech just came to a screaming halt in the Province of B.C. and no non-profit can ever criticize the government again. If instead, we invite into the courtroom all of the many players whose rights and interests must be considered in order to determine what the public interest is, then we’ve just asked a judge to do the government’s job. The judge is an appointee, who is not accountable to voters. Either way, it's wrong.

The proposed section 99 of the new Societies Act attacks one of the fundamental freedoms of democracy, the right of free speech. I expect that, if tested, it would prove unconstitutional for that reason. The Province’s rationale for the proposal—that the public needs to be able to hold non-profits to account for failing to act in the public interest—confuses entirely whose job is whose. The public needs to be able to hold its governments to account for failing to act in the public interest. Non-profits are supposed to help articulate aspects of the public interest that often get overlooked. The public can listen and support the non-profit, or not. Neither they, nor the government, need the right to stop us from speaking.

The government will accept comments on the proposed bill until October 15.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The ocean needs a climate leader

By Karen Wristen

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s address to the Climate Summit in New York last week was poignant:
“Climate change is a defining issue of our age, of our present. Our response will define our future. To ride this storm we need all hands on deck. We need a clear vision. The human, environmental and financial cost of climate change is fast becoming unbearable. We have never faced such a challenge, nor such an opportunity...”

Laurent Fabius, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Ban Ki Moon and Ségolène Royal join an initial count of 310,000 people marching in New York city to demand action on global warming ahead of the Ban ki Moon climate summit. Photo: Greg McNevin.
Ban brought world leaders together at this Summit to encourage a display of the kind of leadership he speaks of when he calls for “all hands on deck.” And displays there were: the summit is knee-deep in celebrities and former politicians urging a legally binding deal to be struck at the next major UN climate negotiations in Paris in 2015. Days before the Summit, more than 340 global institutional investors representing over $24 trillion in assets called on government leaders to provide stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon pricing that helps redirect investment, and to end fossil fuel subsidies. Leaders in both developed and developing nations acknowledged the economic loss that inaction will bring and embracing the stimulus of greening the economy.

Missing from the action was Canada’s Prime Minister. Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq attended in his place, announcing (to a nearly empty room) new regulations to curb emissions from vehicles and the electricity sector. She made no mention of Canada's oil and gas sector, now responsible for one-quarter of the nation’s emissions and two years overdue for the promised announcement of regulations.

The current federal government pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol in December 2011, shortly before embarking on the most comprehensive dismantling of environmental legislation in the history of the modern world. Meanwhile, the ocean continues to absorb much of the carbon in the atmosphere, but at tremendous cost. By 2100, it will be more acidic than it has been in 20 million years.

The next major UN climate negotiations are scheduled for December 2015. The next federal election is scheduled for October 2015. The ocean needs us to send a climate leader to Paris and it needs us to make a legally binding commitment to carbon reduction.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cleaning up Sea Otter Cove

By Will Soltau

“Hey Will, there’s a Japanese skiff washed ashore near Cape Palmerston!” That was what my friend Mike called to tell me last March.

“I know.” I said, “I spotted it in January of 2013. It’s pretty beat up.”

“No,” Mike replied, “this is another one and it’s in good shape. We could salvage it!” And so we did.

I blogged about the salvage adventure last June and vowed in that blog to return to Sea Otter Cove for a shoreline cleanup. Sea Otter is a small, shallow cove on the west side of Vancouver Island in Cape Scott Provincial Park. There are a few rough trails to outside beaches from the cove but it is accessible only by water. Rich with wildlife because of its high-value habitat, it is aimed at the open Pacific like a catcher’s mitt so it also collects a substantial amount of marine debris.

We began planning the project and started fundraising. Two week’s worth of food and accommodations would be needed for the team of volunteers and a large skiff to transport them and what they collected from the debris strewn beaches.

Removing the collected debris from the cove would require a landing craft and helicopter.

It would take a huge effort on the part of the volunteers to clean the cove and surrounding areas and a considerable amount of money to do it safely. Funding for the project came from the generous contribution from the Government of Japan and its people. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Environment, the Vancouver Aquarium, the BC Parks’ Enhancement Fund and all those individuals and local businesses who donated food, supplies, equipment and time as well as all the individual donors who believe in us and what we do.

Two weeks of cleanup work netted over 2,600 kilograms of debris from Sea Otter Cove and the surrounding beaches. Only 41 percent went to landfill with the rest being either recycled or repurposed.

I would humbly like to think we made a difference for the better because I’m pretty sure no one has ever tried to tackle a remote cleanup on this scale since plastic was invented - at least not before at Sea Otter Cove. Still, even while we were there, I watched new debris objects washing in with every rising tide. Knowing that the consumption of plastic and the amount of plastic waste is increasing every year, I’m left wondering if what we did was nothing more than a drop in the ocean and how soon we might have to return to Sea Otter Cove to do it all over again.

Once everyone was home safe and sound and the debris responsibly disposed of, I felt relieved. I checked my voice-mailbox. There was a message from Mike. “Hey Will, there’s a Japanese skiff washed up at the bottom of the Hecht Beach trail. It’s pretty trashed. Not really salvageable but thought you might be interested.”