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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tanker Safety Review proposes a ‘world class’ oil spill response scheme that leaves taxpayers on the hook and fishermen hung out to dry.

Touted as a set of recommendations to embed the “polluter pays” principle in Canada’s oil spill response regime, the report actually does the reverse: it recommends that the taxpayers pay and is silent about who is going get paid.

There’s a long, sad history to the international scheme that’s been in place since the Exxon Valdez, to pay for the devastation created by an oil spill. The saddest part of that history involves the people who had to suffer the direct consequences of the spill—the fishermen, tourism operators and others whose living depends on a healthy ocean. The federal government’s review of tanker safety, released December 3, missed an excellent opportunity to learn from that history and in the result, leaves yawning gaps in its recommendations for oil spill response.

First, let’s debunk the spin that government gave to the report’s recommendations:  this review does not recommend that polluters should have unlimited liability for spills.  Not even close.  What it does say is that we should take the cap off of a special fund that Canada holds, that presently contains $400 million. Taking off the cap just means that the whole $400 million could be made available in the case of a single spill. That doesn’t count for much, when you consider that the economic losses flowing from a major spill on the Enbridge tanker route have been calculated at over $10 billion. That’s money that will be lost by the people making their living on the north and central coast.

See how spilled oil would move along the coast.

About the special fund: the Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund was created back in the 1970’s, by putting a levy on the import and export of oil. The fund only collected revenue for 4 years.  Since then, taxpayers have been paying interest on the capital amount in the fund. Forty years on, that money can hardly be said to belong to the “polluters”; when the fund pays out, it will be mostly our own money that’s being paid.

The tanker safety review also recommends that, if the $400 million should ever prove to be insufficient to compensate for a spill, taxpayers should pick up the slack by loaning money to the fund. Then, there might be another levy imposed which, over the years, might pay back the loan. Or not. The viability of this scheme for passing liability on to the ‘polluter’ really depends on what you think should be compensated by the fund. If we properly made it up to the people whose livelihoods were destroyed by a major spill, we’d be talking $10 billion. It would take quite some time to levy that amount out of the oil industry.

But then, it’s entirely unclear that the government intends to compensate Canadians for the losses they will suffer when there’s a spill. As it stands, the Fund doesn’t cover that kind of loss. It will pay for helping pick up the oil and for “preventive measures taken to minimize damage caused by the discharge of oil”. It’s completely silent on the losses of fishermen with no fish, hotels with no guests and businesses without customers.  

This is one of the lessons we learn by reading the sorry legacy of the Exxon Valdez spill. Ordinary working people paid the real costs of that spill and they’re still paying today. In the US, in order to prevent such a result from ever devastating a town again the way Exxon did Cordova, they passed the Oil Pollution Act—a statute that really does enshrine the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Companies responsible for a spill are liable for “Damages equal to the loss of profits or impairment of earning capacity due to the injury, destruction, or loss of real property, personal property or natural resources”.

It seems an obvious choice to recommend the same kind of legislation for Canadians, if you’re seriously committed to protecting them.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Treasures Amongst the Trash

By Kerri Reid

After several years of living out of the province, and away from the ocean, my husband Tyler Brett and I moved to Sointula in June of 2013. I was very happy to join the Sointula staff of Living Oceans in August, as I’ve had a deep concern for the state of our environment, and oceans in particular, since childhood. Tyler and I share a huge appreciation for how stunningly beautiful life on the coast is, so I was glad to volunteer and help clean up the coast a bit in September, joining Will (Living Oceans’ Clear the Coast Project Coordinator) and another volunteer named Rafi Perez, for a marine debris clean up at Cape Palmerston, on the west coast of Vancouver Island where Will had put a collector bag for visitors to pitch in any debris they collected over the summer. We hauled out one collector bag full of debris and an old broken fish tote.

Rafi, Will, and Kerri hauling a broken fish tote off the beach at Cape Palmerston.

Tyler had a back injury and couldn’t make it that day, so we were both keen to volunteer again to help Will with another beach clean-up right here on Malcolm Island in October (or Fogtober as it turned out this year). We headed out in a herring skiff from Rough Bay, towards the lighthouse at Pulteney Point to an area where some large pieces of foam and other plastic were reported to have washed ashore.

Tyler and I love being out on the water, and don’t have our own boat (yet!), so, one reward for cleaning up beaches was a boat ride. Because of the rocky shoreline, we actually got to be in two different boats that day – the herring skiff, and then Will’s little blue dingy that Tyler and I rowed in to shore to gather debris while Will drifted along in the skiff. We were pretty excited already, but there were even more rewards for this small bit of volunteering, which I’ll explain further below.

It didn’t take long for us to start filling up our garbage bags, which we then floated out with other larger pieces of debris out to where Will was waiting to haul the garbage in to the skiff. 

Here is a bunch of debris being floated out to where 
Will was waiting in the skiff.

Will pulling in a barrel Tyler had
floated over to him from shore.

Tyler with a very large piece of foam he retrieved from the beach.

As you can see in these photos, we found a lot of fairly large pieces of foam and other debris. What you can’t see in these photos, and is more difficult to document, are the countless miniscule pieces of foam and plastic littering the shorelines. Much like when I helped with the beach clean-up at Cape Palmerston, I couldn’t help but feel quite incredulous and overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the task at hand – we worked for several hours, until the tide was too high and we had to stop. Though we took away a good load of trash, we managed to cover only a very small stretch of beach.

I had obviously been expecting there to be some debris for us to clean up, but I don’t think I had anticipated how much there would be. Part of my surprise relates to the fact that I grew up on a floating home in the Lynnwood Marina, which is under the Second Narrows Bridge in North Vancouver. I grew up seeing a lot of marine debris, and I attributed what was floating by my childhood home to living in such a busy and industrial location. It’s easier to see where it comes from in a city. Coming across so much trash at locations like Cape Palmerston and even here on Malcolm Island was quite a surprise to me, and I’ve had to quickly adjust my perspective. I now realize that even relatively remote areas are far from “pristine.” But I guess that’s what entices people to go beachcombing -there might be a treasure amongst the trash.  

We actually found two treasures that day!  Tyler found a glass float and I found a glass bottle with a message inside.  Will said the amber glass float is quite a rare discovery on Malcolm Island, but, based on his understanding of the currents in these waters, he didn't think it came from Japan.  So, if it's not from Japan, where is it from?  Where does all the trash come from?

Tyler and I with the glass float.

The answer may be linked to the other treasure – the message in a bottle. We were so excited about finding the glass float, we kind of ingored the bottle. Later, Will got the note out of the bottle and the message read: “My names Joe from Wales. I’m 11”, with a phone number in the UK included.

Did the bottle come all the way from Wales? Will called the phone number, and spoke with Joe from Wales, who, as it turns out, had been visiting his uncle on Sonora Island last August, when he launched his message in a bottle.

Karin and Julie at LOS put together this map showing the possible routes the bottle could have taken to get from Sonora Island to Malcolm Island.

Seeing this map, and the possible routes Joe’s message took to get to Malcolm Island, confirms for me that it is quite likely that a great deal of the garbage we find on beaches around here originates from nearby. Though it’s nice to imagine our glass float having floated all the way over from Japan or the message in the bottle coming from Wales, and it would be somewhat simpler if we could just blame a distant country from across the ocean for all the garbage on our shores, it seems the reality may be that we in Canada can take credit for much of the trash, as well as the treasures, on our beaches.

So Tyler and I have come away from that beach clean-up with Will with further questions about how and why plastics end up in the oceans instead of in landfills, an eagerness to help out in future beach clean-ups, a greater resolve to reduce our own consumption of plastics, and a lovely glass float on our kitchen windowsill to contemplate every day.

For more information on Living Oceans’ Clear the Coast campaign, please see our website here:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday October 25, 2013 – A walk on the wild side

By Kim Wright
Last day at IMPAC3! Enjoying the sun
at Calanques National Park
After five days of meetings in a conference centre in Marseille, which is France’s second largest city after Paris, it felt good to get out and into nature. An aspect of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that was explored at the IMPAC III is their service of recreational opportunities. My Canadian colleagues and I decided on our final day to explore this value first hand.
After a quick ride on the Metro and a long bus journey, we hiked up over the coastal limestone Pyrenee-Province Mountains of the Calanques National Park to the beach. As the only national park in Europe that has land, marine and semi-urban areas within it, it really was a wilderness beside the city. We picnicked on the beach and swam in the Mediterranean and I even took the opportunity to have a nap.
At IMPAC III I learned that about 50% of the planet’s population lives within 100 km of the ocean. So for at least half of us, a trip to the ocean is a realistic option.
In British Columbia we have beautiful MPAs, some near cities, some in remote waterways, many of them with great recreational potential. At Living Oceans we’re working through processes such as the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) to design new MPAs and expand others so they make up a network. The recreational values the MPAs could provide is being considered along with the wildlife they will protect and the commercial seafood they’ll generate.
One of the reasons I attended the conference in Marseille was to increase awareness on the world stage of Canada’s abysmal record at making sure MPAs are used according to their intent. The government sets aside MPAs but doesn’t take the next step and ensure that places in the MPA that sensitive to fishing pressures are protected from industries such as, for instance, commercial fishing. I’m serious.
If MPAs are to retain the recreational value that our rugged coastal beauty provides, there should be no development, or very little, within the boundaries. Nonetheless, small coastal communities can gain significant revenue from visits to wilderness.
Another reason that I attended IMPAC III was to learn about community involvement in MPA design, development, management and enforcement. Most people who live near wilderness areas will tell you that they could never live in a city! They have much to gain from the conservation of those places they love to spend time in. To reap the benefits of MPAs it’s important that they have a chance to identify the places and species that they want to see protected.

As a city dweller, taking time to visits parks on land and in the water is necessary for my personal sanity, giving me an opportunity to “take a walk on the wild side” both in Marseille and here at home in British Columbia. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Potlucks and Marine Planning

By Kim Wright

Potlucks and de-briefs at IMPAC3 
in Marseille
I am part of a large group of Canadians that include federal, provincial and First Nations staff, and several ENGO representatives attending the International Marine Protected Area Congress in Marseille, France this week. After the day's events are over we have been congregating at different apartments for potluck dinners to debrief on our days and save money on food.

"Je suis allergique au gluten" is a phrase I have had to regularly repeat when dining in Marseille. It is a kind of torture, being allergic to gluten and therefore to all the French breads and pastries that surround me. So I participate in the shopping and meal preparation of our pot luck dinner, a strategy that ensures my dietary peculiarities are met. This participatory approach to eating with representatives from all levels of government and civil society is not that dissimilar to participatory planning for MPAs (Ah ha! I bet you didn't see that coming).

Today's topic at the Congress was participatory approaches to the creation and management of MPAs and truly, cooking a good pot luck dinner is a lot like developing a good protected area. We all have preferences, talents and tastes when it comes to cooking which, when coordinated by a good host, provides a great meal for everyone involved. Every now and again you get a freeloader that shows up empty handed, or two people that unknowingly duplicate dishes, but mostly, people will find what they need, discover something new and leave satisfied.

Another possibility is the "top down approach" to creating MPAs. Remember the liver that was put in front of you as a kid and you were told you had to eat it because it's good for you? That’s a top down approach to dining. Dictating terms, whether with meals or MPAs, can cause resentment. Especially when protected areas disrupt some folks’ livelihoods.

Today we learned that the features that are included in locally created and managed MPAs depend on what the outcomes need to be. Local contribution to the design and management of MPAs in proximity to coastal communities often leads to better buy-in and benefits. Then community members can monitor and measure the success of the MPA through the benefits they receive. MPAs that are created to protect biodiversity can also provide recreational areas, better protection of cultural values and nurseries for commercially valued fish.

So the next time you’re trying to get your kid to eat healthy, think about whether commanding them or collaborating with them can lead to mutual agreement and benefit. As for me, the question on my mind is: Où est l’épicerie?     

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Marseilles Day 2 - Life and Lunch

By Kim Wright

Marseille is a historic fishing town and fishing continues to be important
to the community to this day 

Sylvia Earle said, "the most important thing we extract from the ocean is our existence," and thus began Day Two of IMPAC III - and my foray into the science of ecosystem valuation. There are three things about the day that really stand out:
  1. The lunch of sautéed squid was really fantastic
  2.  I almost fell asleep during the afternoon session
  3. Both of these experiences described above are absolutely related to ecosystem services.
In the first case, the link is direct. Marseille is a port town with a history of fishing and lively fish markets. It is one of the many communities on the Mediterranean whose economy and food is derived from the ocean. But our oceans are over-fished and its ability to provide fish to our ever growing populations cannot be taken for granted.

I heard today that no-take MPAs show a 30 percent increase in biodiversity when compared to similarly situated unprotected sites, and that there are 1.5 to 2 times more fish in them. Those fish spill out making the fishing better in proximity to MPAs.

My second experience (although you might think it is related to jetlag or the wonderful wine that was served with lunch) is indirectly linked to ocean ecosystem services. My sleepiness was actually due to attending a very popular seminar in a small room with windows did not open.  The room's oxygen was running out (at least for the purpose of this blog is what I am telling myself).

Which brings us to one of the most powerful contributions of the ocean to our planet: the phytoplankton that produces half of Earth’s oxygen. Anything that impacts the phytoplankton—such as ocean acidification—also impacts our oxygen supply.  A short walk outside helped my drowsiness enormously.

What I learned is that valuing our ocean ecosystem is not always about attaching a monetary value to the ocean's contributions (although for some things this can be done), but rather, valuation is a communication tool that allows us to better understand the contribution of oceans to our lunch and lives!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Opening ceremonies at Marseille - Achieving Oceankind

By Kim Wright

Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseilles
The ocean, ever changing, is like the civilizations of humanity. It is mortal and it too could perish. This sentiment was shared in the opening ceremonies of the International Marine Protected Area Congress. With 1,300 participants from 19 nations participating, the congress opening plenary day aimed to create a cohesion between us and bring out our creativity.

Most of the day was spent grappling with the concept of ‘oceankind’ and how we might achieve it. Oceankind is the state society will achieve when it becomes aware of the link that binds each person to the ocean's future, wherever they may live.

The town of Marseille is overlooked by the monumental chapel Notre-Dame de la Garde, named for the Virgin Mary who has guarded the city since 1214. There are also many other military fortifications that have more literally guarded the city at the mouth of the port and on nearby islands since Marseille was founded. The need for both a guard of force and a guard of spirit, presented by these two approaches, is at the heart of oceankind. Our need to regulate, monitor and measure the sea through scientific and legal means is necessary on the one hand, but on the other, our deeper connection to the mother ocean— covering 71 percent of the planet's surface and the source of 80 percent of Earth's biodiversity—is the spirit that will carry us through to the greater appreciation for why we must protect the ocean: so she can keep us alive.

Monday, October 21, 2013

747 Blues - Idealist to Realist in 30 Seconds

By Kim Wright

Soaring above the clouds in a 747 may sound glamorous, but airline seating offers a full spectrum of suitability and so the most amazing sounding flight could amount to a less than perfect situation. So it is with Marine Protected Areas.
Marseilles at dawn from the conference centre lawn,
le Jardin du Pharo 

My childhood association with 747s include an image of James Bond with a martini on the staircase to the upper lounge. Boarding a 747 en route to Marseille, I felt a jolt of excitement. The idealist in me imagined a grand voyage. I walked past the staircase, first and business classes, and then continued all the way to the last row of economy class to my seat in row 53, next to the bank of lavatories at the tail of the plane. Settling in, I tried to find the silver lining and perhaps the message that the universe was sending to me.

I am flying to Marseille to attend the International Marine Protected Area Congress where I will do a presentation about the governance and state of protection of Canada's MPAs. The Canadian Government is proud of the suite of MPAs that only cover one percent of our ocean waters. It portrays them as the first class, 747-like ideal of protection. The reality is much more akin to my seat in the 53rd row.

Commercial fisheries are allowed in all but one of Canada’s 197 Pacific coast MPAs. In the Arctic we are cursed with an MPA that has a zone that allows oil and gas exploration within it; oil tanker routes cross our protected areas; open net-pen salmon farms and untreated sewage outfalls contaminate other protected waters.

What, you may wonder, is the protection offered by Canada's MPAs? I wonder the same thing from row 53, as I prepare to share our findings with the world in Marseilles where I hope to learn from other nations about how to beef up our standards. In the meantime, I will follow the lead of our government for a few hours at least, and pull the blanket over my head to block out the reality of my position and dream of first class.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Enbridge poem

We just couldn’t resist … Enbridge has walked into it yet again, this time with a poetic flourish! A whole new, softer, gentler Enbridge buying ad space for lovely pictures and a poem that discloses the depth of their misunderstanding of the ocean:

The ocean --
Vast. Deep.
A limitless pool of life.
A playground for the tiny and
giant things that live within it.
And a gateway to the other side.
The ocean should remain an ocean.

Really? We challenged our supporters to give it back to them in seven lines or less in their choice of iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets, free verse or haiku.

Here are the entries we received in the past few hours. We'll post all the poems on our web site. Or if you'd like you can send us your poem to let Enbridge know what the ocean means to you. Or what Enbridge and its pipeline and tanker proposal mean to you.

Your poems

The Enbridge Ocean
Privately owned and operated
and never paid for
A limitless pool of life to end
As the gateway to the Northern Gateway
The Ocean should remain ours

~ John H.

No, Enbridge we are not fooled by you
We are watching the devious things you do
White washing this whole dirty affair
to try to show us that you care
The ocean to you is just a road
so your filthy crude you can unload
in a far off Asian land
just to get money in your hand

~ Marilyn M.

It's up to us to protect, preserve and prepare the next generation for more than just a food supply but a place to enjoy and not pollute, a place of beauty and not bubbles of tar.

We are stewards to our children's world and ocean.

~R. Kinch

The ocean --
Vast. Dying.
We thought it was limitless.
The life that dwells there is not on vacation,
Has no other home.
No gateway to swim to greener waters.
Is an ocean without life an ocean

~ Tamara S.

The ocean
No more
How sad we will be
A limitless pool of oil and debris
No more shall life survive
In our oceans worldwide
If miles upon miles of pipeline be built
One day you will be ridden with guilt

~ Gonda T.

foolish. greedy.
a juggernaut causing catastrophes carelessly.
like a repeat offender drunk driver
asking to drive the school bus.
and i'm not going to agree to that.
enbridge, you are my enemy.

~ David B.

an ocean is full of life and joy, please don't destroy it with your oil.

~ Charles L.

I did some sleuthing and managed to dig up Enbridge's first draft of their poem.

The ocean --
It's in our way
But we'll cut through it like a knife
And kill all the giant and
Tiny things that live within it.
It's our gateway to the dark side.
The ocean - it belongs to us now; don't forget it.

~ Daniel T.

Agreed, the ocean
should stay an ocean. So don't
dump oil in it.

~ Kirsten S.

It’s good to taste the ocean air;
Good to wash away the strains of the day;
So good to sense the life it holds for every one of us;
What a beautiful, mystical place: the sea.

Then, Ship Happens.

~ Philip M.

The ocean, living, breathing, conscious
Teeming with life, struggling to survive
Commands respect, despairs of man
whose folly pours grunge over all within
her embrace. She shares her bounty willingly
It is up to us to see she has something to share.

~ Aislinn

Le bleu de l'océan
Est fait pour être bleu
Il est source de toute vie
Et il porte en lui des trésors inestimable
Qui sont garant de la pureté de sa source
Et de la vie même qui est sacré
Chacun s'y ressource et s'y délecte
Dans sa magnificence sous ses vagues
Qui nous caresse le corps et berce notre âme

~ Louise B.

The ocean - vast and deep
Is home to maritime life,
Not to oil that might seep
Into every crevice and cranny
In that watery land.
Save the ocean from Enbridge
Who fails to understand
The importance of oceans.

~ Sue M.

The ocean -
A cure for anyone
Feeling at sea.
The tides predictable,
No mooning over them.
The life beneath the waves
Unseen, but welcoming.

~ Edwin T.

The ocean ---
Finite. Threatened.
A fragile pool of life.
A playground for the tiny and
giant corporations that feed upon it.
And a bellwether of human greed.
The ocean should remain an ocean.
Oil free.

~ Greg B.

The ocean shelters our life’s sustenance.
We creatures of the land are dependent on the creatures of the ocean.
The ocean is not a highway or a gateway, it is not a playground and it is not able to withstand limitless abuse.
It is precious. It needs protection. It needs to persist.
The ocean needs to persist in spite of the perverse persecution by petroleum partners.

~ Gail M.

The ocean -
Vast. Deep.
The origins of life itself
Not a playground but a home
For large and small.
Our main source of oxygen
And must remain so forever.
A tanker, a spill, we crossed the line.

The atmosphere -
Vast. Thin.
Our life depends on it.
Luck might spare our oceans
From the worst that we can do.
But the air can't remain healthy
If we safely use the oceans
to help burn our oily goo.

~ Ron

Edibles dying
Jellyfish multiplying.
What was once an ocean blue.
Now purple oil hue.
Stop, to ensure surviving.

~ Leo L.

The ocean --
Vast. Magnificent
Source of all life.
Vulnerable to the greed of corporations
and the wealth of a few.
Black, dying, choking, crying
The ocean must remain a healthy ocean
To sustain us all.

~ Dianne S.

A fool is known by their many words
Or in this case; ANY words

~ Judy C.

Ivory towers with all the powers
Corrupt politicians, media showers;
No-one is listening to the hype,
We know what you are and your type,
If you knew one jot of the ocean's worth,
You would not threaten our hallowed surf.
So keep your plan to launch the tankers,
And grow some brains, you useless wankers!

~ Colin H.

Oceans can be wild and they can be calm
they are the live blood to all who live there
and should not come to harm
The whales and the dolphins
We just stand in awe
To protect them forever should be the law

~ Marilyn M.

The ocean should remain an ocean, always.
No oil rigs, no floating islands of garbage, no dumping from ships and cruise liners, no industrial fishing.

~ Joanne R.

Mystical, blue and forbidding
Home to so many understood by so few
Our oceans, our seas join together as one
Merged in tranquility
Rolling and lapping on far off shores
The rhythm is set
That is one thing man cannot change

~ Marilyn M.

How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?
Enbridge writes poetry
And so can I.

~ Joy T.

A Midwest Macbeth

Will mediocre poems wash this hand
Clean of corruption? No; not if it scanned More perfectly could any rhyming verse The redding of the ocean's green reverse.
Yet oilers are incarnadining out
On bloodless lines, their bloody lines to route.

~ Raf N.

This isn't an ocean, it's a network of trade routes.
These are not mountains, they're challenges.
This isn't oil, it's power.
And you tiny people have no idea
how much you need us.

~ Will K.

Enbridge lies --
Deceit. Arrogance.
A limitless pool of lies.
A corporation to contain greed
and predatory behaviour.
Your pipelines shall not happen.
Tankers moratorium remains.
The ocean is for those creatures who live in it
and have life because of it.
The ocean is no place for tankers.
The earth is no place for tar sands pipelines.
Enbridge GO AWAY!

~ Maddi N.

The oceans so sparkling and blue.
I fear enbridge will make it like glue.
Beautiful ocean your waters go so far.
The only thing enbridge oil tankers will do is is make it tar.
Lovely ocean we cant live without you.please somebody stop enbridge before it's goo.
The miracle of life lives in your waves.we could lose it all how enbridge behaves.

~ Joseph F.

The Earth,
Complex, Unique, Precious, Life-supporting,
Climate Change, accelerating, threatening the fragile ecosystem and human existence
Fossil fuel energies propelling Climate Change
Pipelines and tankers transporting the deadly fuels from Tar Sands and Fracking sites
To a future terrifying to behold.
Such Foolishness!

~ Catherine S.

Enbridge --
Huge. Greedy.
A limitless pool of avarice.
A destroyer of the tiny and
giant things that stand in its way.
And a gateway to destruction.
Enbridge should be ashamed.

~ Nora C.

The Enbridge-Gateway Way

The ocean
Ours to use
Ours to remove Islands
Ours to pollute
Ours to kill
Ours to make of no use to you

~ Tony G.

Enbridge PR Budget.

Vast, Deep.
A limitless pool of nonsense.
A playground for the petty and ambitious minds within it.
A window to those who live in a different world.
Bull$h!t will remain Bull$h!t.

~ Jay S.

Poetry about the ocean.

The Ocean,
our Mother.
How she must regret us,
who murder her other children
in merciless abandon.

With Zombie Oil, we drown her Deep,
Smearing the floor of the Palace of Life.
We fill her giving waters with tiny
merciless pellets of plastic - oil's deadly progeny -
invading the very tissues of the children of the sea
and we kill, kill, kill, for profit.  

~ Muriel

There once was a bunch name of Enbridge
Who couldn't see trees for the foliage
Though they tried and they tried ...
(Oh believe us, they cried!)
All everyone else saw was leakage!

~ Juanita H.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Crude, by any other name…

Karen Wristen is Living Oceans' Executive Director and leads our Tankers campaign that is focused on keeping Canada's Pacific North Coast tanker-free. 

When I saw the video coverage of the train derailment at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, horror quickly turned to anger.  As I listened to the fear and awe in the voices of those who escaped, describing “le chaleur…” I was instantly suspicious that this was not an explosion of conventional crude oil. A quick text to a reporter at the scene confirmed my hunch:  it was labelled “crude oil”, but it came from North Dakota. The Bakken oil shale fields in that state are producing something quite unlike the oil that we’ve known for the past century.  In fact, it more closely resembles gasoline in volatility.

Freight train derailment at Lac Mégantic (QC) this summer resulted
in a loss of life and half of the town's centre. 

But what, I wondered, was North Dakota crude of any sort doing on a Canadian train headed to a Canadian refinery? I understood it was law in the US that all crude had to be refined in the country. Looking a little more deeply into the matter, I uncovered an ironic twist in the fate of the oil industry.

When tarsands and oil shale production began to look economically feasible, U.S. refineries began the extensive refitting and reconfiguration needed to deal with heavy, bituminous oils. Anticipating the Keystone XL pipeline would be approved, the plan was to bring those heavy oils to the Gulf refineries.

Two things went wrong with that plan. First, Keystone proved to be one of the most galvanizing issues to sweep the U.S. since the Vietnam war.  Then the Bakken fields proved to be holding, not the expected heavy crude, but quite the opposite: gases and light liquids like the one that exploded that July night in Lac-Mégantic. Opened for permitting purposes as “crude oil” sites, the product of the Bakken fields is reported in U.S. statistics as “crude” and, as we now know, shipped as “crude.” And tragically, it is being shipped in rail cars that were designed for crude and not for the highly explosive product that it is.

The U.S. industrial conundrum becomes extremely pertinent for us in Canada because the product that exploded at Lac-Mégantic is the very thing tarsands producers use to thin the bitumen that they pump through the pipelines that run through our towns and cities. With a ready market for the product just over the border and the only ‘nearby’ refinery being Irving’s in New Brunswick, we can expect to see a lot more of the stuff crossing the border.

In fact, if the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal is approved and goes ahead, several hundred tankers loaded with the same kind of product will be navigating Douglas Channel every year, bringing condensate to the pipeline for transportation to the tarsands, and back again, mixed with the bitumen. Which leads us to wonder where Kinder Morgan will be getting the condensate they need to move bitumen through the Port of Vancouver.

I know I’ll be approaching all level railway crossings with a new measure of caution.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Raft Cove and beyond - further adventures in marine debris

Andrew Mitchell is Living Oceans Society's summer student, working on our Clear the Coast project on Northern Vancouver Island.

Since my last blog post, we've made two more trips out to check up on our collector bags. Last week we visited Raft Cove and Cape Palmerston, while this week we made the long trip out to Hecht Beach. Fortunately, some lovely people have been filling up those bags, giving us plenty of time to relax on the beach (joking). Thank you to all you good Samaritans, and keep up the good work!

Our planned trip to Raft Cove took a bit of an interesting twist (and took on the slightest hint of patchouli) when we learned of the impending World Rainbow Gathering taking place there. Though the park has since been closed, over 1800 people had confirmed their attendance on the event’s Facebook page. Though we didn't quite know what to expect, when we arrived there were about 15 cars in the parking lot and reportedly about 50 people camped out down the beach. Whether it was the Rainbow Gatherers or other park visitors, someone had clearly been picking up some debris. We also had a volunteer with us: Megan Baker from Cetus Research and Education Society, who hooked us up with the Cetus truck to use. We tied off out first full net bag and stored it above the tide line for pickup later. After replacing the bag and checking on the second father down the beach (about half full), we were on our way. We found the bag out at Cape Palmerston nearly full, with some additional bags full of Styrofoam and other debris stacked around it. Between the three of us we replaced the bag and carried the full one out through the short trail.

Last week’s trip to Hecht Beach, though certainly not unpleasant, was also discouraging. It’s unbelievable how much debris we found in a small area of the beach. Worse still, lots of it was Styrofoam, which has an unfortunate tendency to break into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Eventually, a big chunk of Styrofoam that would be simple to pick up becomes a myriad of tiny bits that take far longer to collect. These Styrofoam bits persist in ecosystems for vast amounts of time, release toxins into the marine environment and can be ingested by wildlife.  That’s not to say that Styrofoam is the only harmful thing that washes up. Various types of debris can have different negative impacts, whether ingestion, entanglement, pollution or any of several other problems.

All marine debris can damage ecosystems in various ways, which is, ultimately, the reason it needs to be removed.  On the beach, we focused our collecting energies on a patch of driftwood, where everything from bottles to boots were mixed up between the logs. Just when you thought you’d finished an area, you’d look at it from another angle and see even more debris! Three garbage bags of debris later, we tied up the now-full collector bag and hung up its replacement. By that time, the morning fog had burned off, and we could finally get a good look at how beautiful the beach is- a quintessential west coast landscape of rock beaches, sparkling blue water and endless trees. That alone made the trip worthwhile, and I look forward to going out there sometime without carrying a garbage bag around the whole time!

While little pieces of Styrofoam are a problem, so are other kinds of (much larger) debris. To date, two small Japanese boats have been spotted washed up on shore. These too could release toxins into the ecosystem and could also crush habitats.  The first, which was spotted back in January, is just north of Cape Palmerston, while the other boat, which was spotted quite recently, is west of San Jo Bay. Both of these sightings were found thanks to our Clear the Coast partners at West Coast Helicopters, and were reported on Living Oceans’ Clear the Coast map. The map is the place where reports are posted from anyone who tells us about marine debris they've seen- be it a washed up vessel, some ghost fishing gear, or general items. Everyone is encouraged to contribute, as the map will help give a clear picture where debris is accumulating and (hopefully) where people are helping to clean it up. All you need to do is fill out a form with the details (where, when, etc.) and we’ll upload that information onto the map.

In summary, we now have more than 3 bags worth of garbage collected- and keep in mind these are much larger than a garbage bag! One net bag could easily hold 10 full regular sized bags and still have room left over for some Styrofoam.  Thanks again to the people out there helping us help the oceans. Don’t forget to report anything you find via our website so we can form an accurate picture of the problem and help formulate better solutions. Be sure to check out what’s on the map so far, and hopefully the next time you do, it will be updated with more firsthand accounts from others. Keep up the good work, and keep pitching in against marine debris.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer cleaning on Northern Vancouver Island

Andrew Mitchell is Living Oceans Society's summer student, working on our Clear the Coast project on Northern Vancouver Island.

The first thing I always look at when walking out onto a beach is the ocean. Whether or not there is anything to be seen other than a huge expanse of water, the sound of waves crashing and the smell in the air immediately draw my attention. After that, I take in other details: the sand (or lack thereof), the plants and animals, and more often than not, the garbage. Even in places that seem to be just barely touched by humans, you can find the usual suspects, be it cans and bottles, Styrofoam or the ever-present plastic.

While some of said garbage is the work of local beach users, much of it also comes from the ocean. This “marine debris”- essentially any made-made object that ends up in the ocean- washes ashore over time. Aside from ruining a day at the beach, marine debris is also a serious threat to ecosystems in and outside of the ocean. The problem is too huge for any one person or group to tackle, which is why we need your help.

Marine debris near Cape Palmerston on northern Vancouver Island, BC

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Silent videos of remarkable marine life

Working in the marine conservation world in Canada these days can be very discouraging, you get up, go to work, spend your days in the office (if you don't work in the field), and go home with the hope that something you did made a difference. It can be easy to forget sometimes why you do what you do, unless you spend time watching the natural world.

Every single day there are amazing things happening in, around and under the ocean, even as we sort out our recycling and try to decide what to make for dinner. Here are a few examples in my favorite medium: silent film.

Even as you were lying in bed this morning, contemplating the pros and cons of hitting the snooze button again, thousands of rhinoceros auklets were flying home with beaks full of pacific sand lance to feed to their chicks who will soon fledge. Some of these birds make an 80 km round trip in a night to find food in the rich waters around the Scott Islands and other colonies along the coast. This is their story:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Putting a value on nature

I've harped on about the value of the natural world in previous posts. I recently came across a TED talk that really pins down not only the value of nature's services, but also the hidden costs of their use to society. But I'll let the gentleman in question, Pavan Sukhdev, speak for himself. Enjoy:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Business of Marine Reserves: Achieving Financially Sustainable Ocean Conservation

Rod Fujita is Director of Research and Development, Oceans Program, with the Environmental Defense Fund. This piece was originally published on May 1 on the Environmental Defense Fund blog.

Ocean conservationists have been arguing for a long time that marine reserves are a good investment, because they help sustain many ecosystem services, including fisheries and tourism. Various studies have helped to quantify the value generated by marine reserves, but a new study puts it all together and presents a convincing value proposition for marine reserves. Now all we need are investors who can appreciate that value proposition and make it work economically, and the right combination of rules and governance that will make these new kinds of markets – ecomarkets – viable.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meet the Chefs!

Lana Gunnlaugson is the National Manager for SeaChoice.

On Friday, May 3rd, 12 top chefs are coming to Vancouver to join forces in support of making National Sustainable Seafood Day official in Canada. Each chef is preparing a unique “Best Choice” seafood culinary creation that is not to be missed. Trust me, I've seen the line-up of dishes and my mouth is already watering! And not only will chefs be attending, but the fishers and aquaculture producers will be there to share their seafood solution stories for our oceans. And the icing on the cake will be hearing our keynote speakers, David Suzuki and Chef Barton Seaver.

The chefs involved with this event are key ocean ambassadors that have the power to influence not only their restaurant's menu and customers, but as celebrity chefs they influence food lovers and communities at large across the nation. We hope you will be able to join us for this special seafood celebration to toast these amazing chefs for making the commitment to serve ocean-friendly menus and keep our oceans healthy for today and tomorrow. Oh, and definitely take 2 seconds to sign your name to the petition in support of National Sustainable Seafood Day.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Little bird in a big ocean

In the black hours of early morning, a tiny bird emerges from its shallow burrow on the top of a wind-swept rocky island and launches itself out over the wild Pacific Ocean. This female Cassin's auklet is not much to look at – barely larger than a robin and considerably less colourful, with only a tiny white eyebrow as a marking. She has been described as a 'flying tennis ball', built more for diving than for flying, but she has a long way to go to find food for her chick. While her mate rests for the day, she takes her turn at flying out to the edge of the deep water, a one-way trip of up to 100 km. It will be dark again before she returns from her exhausting flight with food for her young safely tuck away in a special pouch in her throat.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Canada must do more to protect coastal waters from increasing industrialization

The following article appeared in the Vancouver Sun on Monday, March 25, 2013 and can be viewed in its original context here. Art Sterritt is executive director of Coastal First Nations; Michael Uehara is president and CEO of the King Pacific Lodge.

This is a story of failure, opportunity and the path to redemption in managing Canada's oceans.

The federal government has failed to honour commitments dating back to the 1997 Oceans Act to protect Canada's natural marine heritage. And this neglect is endangering not only our ocean ecosystems but also sustainable jobs and prosperity on all three coasts, now and for generations to come.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Giant squid - one big happy species!

It is not our custom on here on Water Blogged to feature widely popular marine species. Most of our previous posts about specific creatures have focused on the lesser-known/appreciated ocean-dwellers like hagfish, sculpins and sleeper sharks. My colleague, Carrie, once wrote an excellent piece on the truly under-appreciated eelgrass. However, today's news is so exciting that it warranted a post about a creature that has captured the imagination of humans around the world for centuries.

A recent genetic study of preserved specimens of giant squid from around the world suggests that these animals are not only a single species, but in fact a single global population!

The Kraken as Seen by the Eye of Imagination by Edward Etherington

Monday, March 18, 2013

Harper government’s muzzling of scientists a mark of shame for Canada

The following commentary appeared in the Toronto Star on Friday, February 15, 2013. It can be viewed in its original context here. Jeffrey Hutchings is Killam Professor in the Faculty of Science at Dalhousie University and the president of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution.

“In my view, scientists should stick to science.”

This was a Conservative MP's response to my testimony at a 2012 parliamentary committee after I'd chaired a Royal Society of Canada expert panel on how climate change, fisheries, and aquaculture affect Canadian ocean biodiversity. Among other things, our report concluded that constructive and respectful debate on salmon aquaculture is hindered by a lack of full disclosure of diseases on fish farms, a concern echoed by Justice Bruce Cohen in his October 2012 report on Fraser River sockeye salmon.

I was making the point that science plays a key role in informing, strengthening, and assessing the effectiveness of science-based management practices and government policy. Judging from his unsolicited advice that I should “stick to science,” Manitoba MP and committee member Robert Sopuck didn't see things this way.

Perhaps scientists should be seen, but not always heard. This would be consistent with a recent tightening of the near-Gordian communications knot that controls how federal scientists interact with society .

Monday, March 11, 2013

Douglas Adams: Sifting Through the Embers

Today is significant for at least a couple of reasons that I know of. Firstly it's the 2nd anniversary of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated coastal Japan and washed whole cities into the Pacific Ocean. This tragic milestone was marked by an episode on the Fifth Estate titled Second Wave, which is well worth watching.

The second reason that this date stands out in my mind is because it's the 61st birthday of the great science fiction writer Douglas Adams. Aside from being known for his humorous work, International Towel Day and the number 42, Adams was a passionate environmentalist which led him to do such things as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro dressed as a rhinoceros.

He also co-authored a book (and accompanying radio series) with zoologist Mark Carwardine titled Last Chance to See, in which he traveled around the world to catch a last glimpse of the last remaining members of a few prominent endangered species. The book included a heart-wrenching description of the authors' search for the last few baiji (Yangtze River dolphins) which are now one of the few marine mammals to become functionally extinct in modern times.

The book ends with the following passage, which is one of the best analogies for the global loss of biodiversity and the exponentially increasing cost of conservation that results from our idleness. These species and the conservation world as a whole lost a great champion with Adam's passing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"What the hell were you thinking?" A 16-year-old's testimony at Enbridge Northern Gateway JRP

The following article originally appeared in the Vancouver Observer on February 5th, 2013, and can be viewed in it's original context here

What the hell were you thinking? from Catherine Wallace on Vimeo.

The following transcript is from the presentation of Sam Harrison, who presented at the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Vancouver on January 31.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love in the Sea

This being Valentine's Day and all, I thought I'd share some cool stories and videos I've run across recently about love in the sea. And by 'love' I mean of course to say 'sex'.

It all started with a story about the Sex Lives of Barnacles from Discovery News. Barnacles, really? How exciting could that be? Well for one, they have the largest penis relative to their body size! But even more exciting, scientists recently confirmed that intertidal gooseneck barnacles (Pollicipes polymerus to their friends) capture sperm directly from the water. Up until now, it was thought that all crustaceans copulated directly in some way.

On the left: A stalked barnacle with a relaxed penis (marked with arrow); On the right: Erect barnacles releasing sperm into water. Image:courtesy of

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Death, Taxes and MPA's

With March fast approaching, many of you are probably thinking about the latter of life's two certainties. That's right, the days are getting longer, the flowers are poking through the snow and accountants are sharpening their pencils in preparation for tax season. It's time to dig out your receipts, take stock of your finances and prey that you won't be audited when it's all over.

Audit. The word alone is often enough to raise the blood pressure, especially if you've ever been involved in one. But audits are really an essential part of any financial accountability be it personal, business or government. In fact, there is a whole department within the Canadian government whose business it is to hold the administration accountable for its stewardship of public funds - the Office of the Auditor General.

This past Tuesday, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (who is responsible for audits that relate to environmental issues) released a report on a number of topics including Canada's Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and how the federal government is living up to its commitments around them. The release of this report included a short video that does a great job of explaining the issue in about 3 minutes:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The lowly limpet and the need for full habitat protection

Will Soltau is Sustainable Fisheries and Salmon Farming Campaign Manager for Living Oceans Society.

I started out to write an Overlooked Species Theater piece about the lowly limpet. But as it unfolded, it became more about overlooked habitat.

The recent re-write of the habitat provisions in our Fisheries Act have been bugging me a lot lately. And I'm not the only one. Justice Cohen took a swipe at the federal government in his report on declining returns of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River. And just the other day the Environment Commissioner wrote, “The Department (of Fisheries and Oceans) has stated that it has not yet fully determined the impact of the changes.” My heartburn comes partly because the changes to habitat protection were wrapped up in an Omnibus Budget Bill and crammed down our collective throats. But it's also because the kind of thinking that only values economic determinants is really short sighted and doesn't make any ecological sense.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Public Interest: a statement to the Joint Review Panel

Statement to the Joint Review Panel: Kim Wright, January 16th, 2013 in Vancouver B.C.

My name is Kim Wright. I was born in Prince Rupert and I live and work in Vancouver. I have spent my whole life on the coast. I am an environmental and social scientists, educated and employed in the field of environmental conflict analysis and management.

Tonight I wish to speak to you about what is in the public interest and how one might approach making that determination

My personal perspective is informed by many years of working with Canadians who come together to make decisions about the natural resources they share. I have witnessed the positive benefits of collaboration and stakeholder engagement in marine and land use planning. There are many examples from across Canada where sustainable resource use that is compatible with the needs and values of local communities and the environment has resulted from such processes. They are critical for establishing the public interest for current and future generations of Canadians.

I have also been witness to changes in British Columbia's coastal communities over the last forty years; the industrialization of the fishing fleet, boom and bust local economies, declining opportunities for employment and the movement of youth away from their families and home towns into the cities for education and work. I am sympathetic to the need for economic opportunities for all Canadians including those in smaller coastal communities. My friends and colleagues in these communities will all agree that stronger more diverse economic opportunities that are embedded in healthy ecosystems are the long term solution. They believe and I agree that these are their interests.

The National Energy Board defines the public interest as:
inclusive of all Canadians and refers to a balance of economic, environmental and social considerations that changes as society's values and preferences evolve over time. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Incidental catch: in the wrong place at the wrong time

Will Soltau is Sustainable Fisheries and Salmon Farming Campaign Manager for Living Oceans Society.

A while back I blogged about the outbreaks of the IHN virus at salmon feedlots in BC and how they may have been avoidable if a vaccine was used. As it turns out, 2012 was a bad year for disease outbreaks in the Canadian salmon feedlots on both west and east coasts. A lot of money was invested with no return. More money was spent culling fish under depopulation orders from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. On top of that, Chile rebounded after their three year ISA epidemic and began re-supplying the market, driving prices down and squeezing margins in B.C. And when you add on the cost of a million dollar BC ad campaign with a high rent agency just before and during the downturn, a better example of throwing good money after bad would be hard to find. It's no wonder the salmon aquaculture spin doctors are so snarky these days.

What just recently came to light is the incidental catch associated with one of those disease events. 2.5 tonnes of Pacific herring that were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time were sucked out of the net pens along with the sick Atlantic salmon. "*The incidental catch of herring at this facility occurred during a planned depopulation to control the spread of Infectious Haematopoietic Necrosis virus (IHNv)."