Geoengineering experiment off B.C. coast called ‘blatant violation’ of UN rules The experiment involves controversial Californian businessman Russ George
VANCOUVER – A private company has conducted what is being described as the world’s biggest geoengineering experiment off Canada’s west coast, dumping tonnes of iron into the ocean that may have triggered an artificial plankton bloom up to 10,000 square kilometres in size.
The experiment, which critics say is a ”blatant violation” of United Nations rules, involves controversial Californian businessman Russ George who teamed up with a First Nations village on Haida Gwaii to establish the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation to run the project.
Environment Canada said Monday it is aware of “the incident,” which is reported to have entailed dumping 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the sea in a scheme to enhance both plankton and salmon and generate lucrative carbon credits.
“The matter is currently under investigation by Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch, and as such, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Mark Johnson, media relations officer at Environment Canada, said in an email statement.
George and his colleagues at the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) did not respond to requests for interviews Monday after news of the Canadian experiment surfaced in the Guardian, a British newspaper.
It reports that George’s team dumped about 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the ocean from a fishing boat 370 kilometres west of Haida Gwaii in July. George and his colleague John Disney sold the people in the village of Masset on the idea of ocean enhancement, and the HSRC agreed to channel more than $2.5 million into projects.
“He promised a plankton bloom and he got it,” Guujaaw, president of the Haida Nation, told Postmedia News on Monday. “You can see it on the satellite images.”
A large plankton bloom covering an area up to 10,000 square kilometres was visible off Haida Gwaii in August, but it is not known how much was stimulated by the iron sulphate dumped into the sea and how much of it occurred naturally.
“The people on Masset council and the Haida Development corporation brought this forward with good intentions,” Guujaaw said, noting how it was billed as a salmon enhancement project that would help the marine environment.
The HSRC website says that the corporation’s “plan is to engage in the best applied pasture and ocean science to develop and deliver practical and affordable stewardship for our sovereign Haida Ocean.”
The HSRC website lists several scientific collaborators and providers including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a U.S. federal agency, and Canadian Centre for Ocean Gliders.
Guujaaw said he was unaware of the actual fertilization experiment until after the iron was dumped in July and people began talking about it as a “great success.”
Now that the story of the experiment is out, he said plenty of questions are being asked including whether the experiment might have long-term negative environmental impacts and if the money invested will ever be recouped.
George has long advocated ocean fertilization as a way to generate carbon credits. The controversial geoengineering technique involves dumping iron into the sea to create plankton blooms to get the ocean to absorb more carbon dioxide, one of main greenhouse gases associated with climate change.
George is the former chief executive of Planktos Inc. and his vessels were barred from ports by the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments after previous attempts to produce plankton blooms near the Galapagos and Canary Islands. The Haida Gwaii experiment is believed to be the biggest geoengineering attempt to date, Jim Thomas, of the technology watchdog ETC Group, said Monday. The group has long tracked and publicized what Thomas describes as George’s “scams” and “schemes.”
He said George has been pushing various carbon credit schemes in Haida Gwaii for a few years.
Guujaaw said he hopes the experiment will not harm the reputation of Haida, long recognized for promoting sustainable logging and protecting and respecting the marine environment.
Observers say the experiment has contravened the United Nations convention on biological diversity and London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea, which prohibit for-profit ocean fertilization.
“It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions,” said Kristina Gjerde, a senior high seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature told the Guardian. “Even the placement of iron particles into the ocean, whether for carbon sequestration or fish replenishment, should not take place, unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation.
“This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research,” she said.
The Canadian experiment is expected to attract plenty of attention this week at a meeting about the UN convention on biological diversity in India, where there will be calls for a comprehensive ban of geoengineering that includes enforcement mechanisms.
“It’s urgent that governments ban open-air geoengineering experiments,” said Thomas, whose group is calling on the Canadian government to back a ban and push for enforcement. “These geoengineering tests are just not acceptable.”
As for this summer’s experiment, Thomas said “we would like to see very clear and strong action from Canada that they condemn this.” He said the people of Masset may be able to take legal action “for being misled” that fertilizing the ocean could generate carbon credits.