New life boat stations, large-mammal avoidance system for Island waters

New spill-response facilities on Vancouver Island and more protection for endangered orcas are part of the federal government’s

$1.5-billion ocean-protection plan.

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Details of how the plan would affect Vancouver Island were revealed Tuesday by Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment and climate change, in a speech at the University of Victoria.

Measures to protect B.C.’s coast include:

• Investments in new large-mammal avoidance systems and new measures to mitigate noise for endangered southern resident killer whales.

• A new logistics depot in Port Hardy to house staff and equipment to ensure rapid response to any spill into the ocean.

• Creation of six lifeboat stations, including in Victoria, Port Renfrew and Nootka.

• Formation of new indigenous community-response teams.

• Investment in hydrographic and navigational data for waterways in Victoria, Esquimalt, Nanaimo, Port Renfrew, Port Alberni, Chemainus and Campbell River.

• Provisions for removal of derelict boats and a polluter-pay model for cleanup.

• Restoration of priority species habitat, including wild salmon.

“The ocean-protection plan will lead to better responses when incidents occur off our coasts, but perhaps most importantly, it will take steps to ensure marine incidents don’t happen in the first place,” Wilkinson said.

The announcement came in advance of a federal decision on the proposed $6.8-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Kate Moran, president and CEO of Oceans Network Canada, said she was thrilled with the government’s announcement. The UVic-based organization is developing a system to send an alert when whales are in the path of vessels.

“They may not be able to change their course, but if it’s possible, they’ll have the opportunity to do so,” Moran said.

Underwater listening systems called hydrophones are being used to document underwater noise, she said, which has been identified as a threat to southern resident killer whales.

“With that information, as people learn more about it, we’ll be able to reduce noise in the environment and make the environment a much safer place for southern resident killer whales.”

But Misty MacDuffee, wild salmon program co-ordinator for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said the federal plan might sound better than it is.

Missing are commitments like banning northern tanker traffic and full implementation of the Cohen Commission recommendations for wild salmon restoration, including a study of cumulative effects of increasing ocean traffic, she said.

Noise pollution from the Trans Mountain project would jeopardize already precarious orca populations, she said.

“It’s enough noise to send the southern resident killer whales on that negative trajectory of population decline. And this is a population that can’t handle more decline. It’s a trajectory toward extinction,” MacDuffee said.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the federal plan is necessary, whether or not Trans Mountain is approved. “Everyone is focused on Kinder Morgan, but even if it were not to go ahead, we are still projecting significant increases in tanker traffic off our coast.”

She said the plan addresses the province’s concerns about spill response, even if it doesn’t directly meet 11 conditions the province had said must be bridged.

Polak said the outcomes are more important than specific actions.

“It certainly responds to the ‘world-class’ definition at this point,” Polak said.

Whether it still does for future conditions, and those anticipated with projects like Trans Mountain, is yet to be seen, she said.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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