Federal government officials knew in May about a plan to dump iron-rich dust into the ocean off Haida Gwaii and the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. was told it would violate Canadian law, an Environment Canada spokesman said Thursday.
But Environment Minister Peter Kent was not informed of the geoengi-neering experiment until this week, although an investigation was launched Aug. 29, after the enforcement branch heard about a "possible incident," said Adam Sweet, Kent's press secretary.
"Until three days ago, this matter had not been elevated to the minister's attention. Upon being notified, he immediately sought answers into the scope of Environment Canada's involvement," Sweet said.
Kent, responding to questions in Parliament, said spreading iron on the ocean appears to be illegal.
"Environment Canada was not asked to approve this apparent violation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act," Kent said.
"Anyone who contravenes environmental law should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
The company, which operates out of the tiny Village of Old Massett, says it deposited 100 tonnes of iron-rich dust outside Canada's 200 nautical mile limit, but Sweet said that it does not make any difference whether it was within the exclusive economic zone or on the high seas.
"Canada does not condone the practice of ocean dumping unless the proper procedures are followed first," Sweet said.
An application under the Disposal at Sea program, was never received, he said.
The iron was dispersed from a rented fishing boat which sails under a Canadian flag, meaning Canada is responsible for enforcing compliance with international regulations.
The aim of the project is to encourage phytoplankton growth, to provide food for young salmon. The company plans to pay back $2.5 million borrowed from the village reserve fund, with the sale of carbon credits.
Green Party leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May said the incident, which first surfaced at a biodiversity convention in India, underlines Canada's blocking of international rules around such geoengi-neering experiments. "This incident should be a wakeup call that we don't have a handle on this," May said.
Implications of bioengineering are huge, May said.
"This kind of experiment is very, very risky business. Scientists have warned us it can destroy oceanic ecosystems, create toxic tides and aggravate ocean acidification and global warming," she said. "The bottom line is that ocean fertilization has a high potential of catastrophic effects and a low potential of success. It is a road we should not take at any cost."
On Haida Gwaii, where the Council of Haida Nations prides itself on environ-mental responsibility, hereditary chiefs and Guu-jaw, president of the Haida Nation, distanced themselves from the experiment, which was approved by Old Massett village council.
"The Hereditary Chiefs Council and the Council of the Haida Nation are in no way involved in artificial fertilization through dumping of iron compounds in the ocean around Haida Gwaii," said a council statement.
"The consequences of tampering with nature at this scale are not predictable and pose unacceptable risks to the marine environment. Our people, along with the rest of humanity, depend on the oceans and cannot leave the fate of the oceans to the whim of the few."
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