Raincoast Conservation Foundation ‘is an intervener in the National Energy Board’s (NEB) public review process known as the Joint Review Panel (JRP) on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project.” Here is a timeline of Raincoast’s submissions to the JRP.
what’s at stake?
I read What’s at Stake: The cost of oil on British Columbia’s priceless coast by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation so you don’t have to (but I highly recommend it). Excerpts are below. Integrating land and sea, this coastal rainforest feeds not only people and bears, but also sea lions and whales, and way more. ‘The return of some large whales to inside coastal waters gives us hope that actions to protect marine species and habitats can be successful.’
(Pictured is a kermodie, or spirit bear, unique to BC’s coastal rainforest, hunting salmon, an example of the connectedness between land and sea. The kermodie is not an albino. For more, watch this brief video.) What’s at Stake is a 64-page document, much of which reports research details. The first paragraph says it all: ‘The BC coast is a fragile labyrinth of geography and diversity. Woven between inlets, straits, channels and sounds, its beauty and abundance have captivated and sustained people for millennia, unfailingly offering spiritual and physical sustenance. The ocean, islands, and adjoining lands have formed the basis of survival for countless cultures, plants, and animals. Yet, over the last 200 years, Canada’s Pacific coast has been modified by an economy that ignored the tapestry of ecology, or worse, viewed the environment as an obstacle to overcome.’ Chapter Four amplifies this labyrinth of connectedness between land and sea.
awareness is just the beginning…
It appears that ‘the consequences of this transformation seemingly grow irreversible and unsolvable, underscoring the fragile nature of our environment.’ However, ‘in recent years awareness has grown of the fundamental conflict between unbridled commerce and healthy ecosystems.’ It takes more than awareness, though; it takes research, lawsuits, protests, willingness to go to jail, compassion, resolve, and more. ‘The growing emphasis [of pipelines and tankers] on BC’s coast … has spurred substantial concerns from coastal communities and the public about the impacts and risks associated with large scale oil operations and spills.’
(Pictured is Raincoast’s Marine Survey Study Area.) Heroic in their five-year collection of data, Raincoast researchers braved life-threatening storms, ‘but we fell asleep to singing humpbacks, woke to the blows of killer whales in the dense fog, travelled the days with leaping dolphins, and watched the sun set on thousands of sooty shearwaters. Our experiences have instilled in us a deep understanding of the risks associated with oil tankers traversing our rocky waters and an unwavering commitment to protect this precious coast.’
seals and orcas
In the coastal waters, more seals mean more seal-eaters. Wrongfully thinking that seals ate primarily salmon, from ‘1879 to 1968 more than half a million harbour seals were killed in British Columbia. In 1970, they received protection from culling. Since then, the harbour seal population has grown and stabilized.’ Research showed that salmon made up only ten percent of a seal’s food. Orca populations declined and then grew too.
The coastal rainforest is an important area for flora and fauna, including sea mammals and marine birds; however, human economy is important too. However, ‘awareness is growing of the fundamental conflict that exists between our economic growth model and the ecological services, processes and features that underpin our economy. This conflict exists because as the economy grows (typically measured by GDP), natural capital is re-allocated from a physical habitat to the human economy. Increasingly, the cost of this approach is seen in rising numbers of endangered species, loss of biodiversity, pollinator decline, climate change, limits to waste absorption, fisheries collapse, declining farmland and forest cover, and declining water and air quality.’ Sound familiar?
Just as with biomagnification, where minute toxins accumulate and overwhelm a top predator, ‘small, seemingly independent decisions or actions can accumulate into large, undesirable consequences over the long term…. Acting synergistically, their effect is to compromise ecological processes…, which results in an altered coastal environment.’ However, it can work the other way, too: small actions can benefit life. A thousand-mile journey begins with one step. You know, baby steps.
Remember the island archipelago of The Beachcombers? ‘Islands are fragile. But the possibility of a catastrophic oil spill compounds risks in many ways because spilled oil has a tendency to settle on shorelines and beaches. These serve as gateways or points of contact where oceanic resources (or pollutants) encounter much of the islands’ diversity.’ 900 km in a straight line from Washington to Alaska, the BC shoreline actually measures over 27,000 km of coast and beach, which ‘places this web of diversity much more at risk than a 900 km distance would suggest.’ With an oil spill, no more beachcombing, no more island archipelago. No fish, no sea birds, no whales….
land and water
And no land animals either if there is an oil spill. ‘The movements and food habits of many of these “maritime animals” span both environments. Consequently, many species we consider terrestrial can be acutely sensitive to everyday activities associated with [marine] oil and gas exploration, production, and transport, as well as the recurring catastrophic accidents that have stained the oil industry’s reputation.’ Bears and wolves, from the coast to several hundreds of kilometres inland, have salmon in their diet. Some birds, such as saw-whet owls and northwestern crows, feed exclusively at intertidal pools.
salmon bring nutrients far inland
Even herbs, shrubs, and trees benefit ‘from this marine-derived source of nitrogen and phosphorous that salmon carcasses provide…. Organisms as varied as invertebrates, amphibians, birds, and mammals either directly or indirectly receive sustenance from salmon. So far 138 terrestrial species have been identified that rely to some extent on salmon.’ So far….
An oil spill threatens all this. Mistakes happen. Considering the Exxon Valdez oil spill (which ‘travelled 750 km and fouled 1990 km of shoreline’, here overlayed on the treacherous waters near Kitimat), as well as dozens of shipping incidents off the coast of BC, like the spill from the Leroy Trucking barge (2007) and the sinking of the Queen of the North (2006), Raincoast concludes that ‘should an accident occur off the BC coast involving a large ship, serious inadequacies in response capabilities would hinder rescue and containment operations.’
to be continued…