UN group clashes with First Nation over iron dumping

An unauthorized experiment that saw iron dumped into the waters off Haida Gwaii in hopes of promoting plankton growth has drawn international criticism.

Delegates at the United Nations International Maritime Organization meeting in London expressed "grave concern" about the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. of Old Massett, which scattered more than 100 tonnes of iron in the Pacific Ocean.

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"Ocean fertilization has the potential to have widespread, long-lasting and severe impacts on the marine environment, with implications for human health," says a statement from delegates.

"The parties have been reviewing the issue of ocean fertilization since 2007 and have developed options that would establish a global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism for ocean fertilization activities and other activities ... that have the potential to cause harm to the marine environment."

Joe Spears, legal counsel for the salmon corporation and village of Old Massett, said Friday the declaration has set off a showdown.

"You know, this is a clash between big science and big [non-government organizations], and village science and indigenous peoples," Spears said, adding that nobody from the UN body contacted the First Nation before issuing the statement.

The First Nation followed the guidelines for their scientific research, is in contact with Environment Canada and is pleased to co-operate with its investigation, Spears said.

The project was an effort to boost salmon returns and earn profits from carbon capture. Iron dust, iron sulphate fertilizer and iron oxide were dumped over an area of about one square kilometre about 300 kilometres west of the Haida Gwaii islands in July.

Satellite images suggest the project resulted in a 10,000-square-kilometre plankton bloom.

Jim Thomas of ETC Group - which works on issues of how new technology can impact the world's poor and vulnerable - said Canada should take action and prosecute those responsible for breaking international conventions on dumping in international waters.

"This amounts to clear international condemnation of this irresponsible geo-engineering scheme," he said. "The Canadian government should signal that they will move to make this the last geoengineering experiment. Any geoengi-neering amounts to a rogue and unacceptable gamble with our future."

Environment Minister Peter Kent said this week in the House of Commons that his department was investigating the "demonstration of rogue science."

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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