Archive for category Enbridge/ Tanker Traffic
It’s not normally recommended to expose yourself so entirely; out here storms from the southeast can churn up the seas before you can say ‘purple ringed top snail’. Bobbing over the remnant swells from the last blow, we look back at the mainland before it blurs into a darkened silhouette of peaks and valleys that make up the coast mountain range. With anchor secured, we are visited by a gang of Steller sea lions, a family of river otters and the bulbous heads and watchful eyes of harbour seals in every quiet cove.
As the western sun dips below the horizon, leaving its imprint of amber and crimson light, we soak in the panorama atop a rock nearby our lonely anchorage. We hear the squeals of a sea otter pup before it comes into view, riding on its mother’s furry stomach. A curiously placed snowy owl lands on an islet nearby as we savor the experiences of another wonderfully rich and diverse day.
Extra preparation was required for today: extra paddles, air tanks, VHF radios and a sat phone, in addition to a pre-departure agreement on emergency hand signals. Rising up the steep swells in our trusty dinghy, the three of us hunkered down as white foam whipped across us. I was jealous of Ian and Tav’s dry suits. After thirty dives this past week, the divers have fallen into a familiar rhythm, and as they drop to the bottom I could see the waves of mysids flowing over them. Later they would tell me that these tiny shrimp were so thick that they blocked out the sun.
In mixed seas like this it was hopeless to keep track of their bubbles, so I relied on the strobe from Ian’s flash to monitor their positions. So much shrimp biomass ensured the surface lens was covered in sea birds and plenty of fish below.
The third dive of the day was chosen up a quiet pass, protected from the ocean swell but with lots of tidal current pushing late season bull kelp forests. I could see dozens of harbour seals swimming below in the crystal clear water weaving back and forth as they curiously watched on.
Tuning into the weather channel brings news of storm conditions descending on our rocky perch, so we make a late departure for the safety of the mainland; now instead of big swells and surfing pescavores the tannin waters of the mainland bring brilliant orange sea pens, fields of nudibranchs and a travelling group of transient orcas. After breakfast, Ian admits he’s behind on some paperwork (some excuse about due dates for a book) and sits out the morning’s dive, so Tav had the pleasure of yours truly filling in as his dive partner – what a wonderful treat to see it first hand!
The days have gone too quickly and we have only explored a tiny fragment of the Great Bear Sea, but bearing witness to this rarely-observed world has been a gift. It’s not just the magnificent combination of flora, fauna and geology that faces such an uncertain future, it’s also the human communities that rely on the health of these systems. The continuing fight against oil tankers is found in the unity of all nations, in the unprecedented alliance of the walkers and swimmers, of the slimy and spiny. And perhaps if you experience a moment of despair for this coast, know that there are thousands and millions of creatures still blowing bubbles for the Great Bear Sea!
Thanks for reading!
Ian, Tavish and Ashley
Ashley Stocks is on a Pacific Wild diving expedition through the Great Bear Sea and will be uploading a three part blog series with new images and footage.
A twice daily flushing and filling of lagoons creates the dynamic environment that supports diversity, strengthening the fabric of the natural world here and the main ingredient that Ian and Tavish are searching for – strong tidal current! We anchored up shortly before dark and Tavish was eager to get in the water. Ian fielded media calls from the Habitat while I cooked up some dinner; back at Pacific Wild headquarters, international media are reporting on the amazing fishing wolf coverage their remote cameras are getting. Tav emerged with stories of an overly curious octopus – apparently he’s a sucker for a good close up.
There’s a special time when ebb turns to flood and the only indication of current is the twisted up bull kelp laying battered on the surface. This time of year you’re lucky if you have two slack tides in daylight, but we missed it. Our first dive was about 0900, two hours before low slack, so Ian and Tav ducked into eddies out of the 12 knots of white water that was pouring out of the lagoon. I tied the tender to an overhanging tree, finding solace in the low boughs like the belted kingfishers. Peering over the side of the dinghy I got a taste of the beauty below, I could see green surf and plumose anemones and a few schooling striped sea perch, anticipating what Ian and Tav had captured in this challenging environment.
The following day, low slack was timed well; midday it was supposed to turn. With enough time for a morning dive to get the kinks worked out, I drop the divers on the edge of the raging current. It was a stunner of a morning: clear sky, great blue herons fishing the shore, cormorants and grebes pursuing the swift water, and a sea lion, investigative of the dual streams of bubbles rising up from below.
Back on Habitat, the crew busily set up for our window of stillness, lights were charged and air tanks were filled. Ian and Tav donned their suits in giddy anticipation of such ideal conditions – slack tide, excellent visibility, no wind, a reliable tender to fetch them, and sunshine!
We arrived on scene with water still draining from the lagoon. With each diver set up in his chosen spot, I fastened the boat to a few stipes of kelp. Above the water, everything went quiet and the stillness was enchanting. It took only a minute for my kelp hitching post to go slack and slowly bow in the opposite direction, indicating the flood was on the way. Below the water, all types of fish came up from their bunkers and swam about freely, enjoying the brief relief from their windy existence.
Our time was spent well in the protection of these tidal lagoons and the divers’ spectacular images and footage will surely become part of the conservation agenda in the coming months, but for now it’s time to move on. The tender is hauled out and lashed in its cradle, air tanks are tied down, and the galley’s contents are stowed securely away as we work our way to the wave-beaten outer coast.
Zalinski – Cleaning up Oil or Image
Last winter I found myself descending slowly down a black wall, my dive partner Tavish Campbell, somewhere off to my left is only recognized by the narrow beam of his dive light. The depth gauge registered 100 feet so I figured I must have missed the shipwreck. I kicked off into the water column and suddenly found myself face to face with a towering wall of steel; long lines of rivets disappeared into the dark.
I was staring at the shipwreck of the the 250 foot-long USAT Brigadier General M. G. Zalinski, a U.S. army transport ship that sank in the Grenville channel north of Hartley Bay in 1946.
Just on the other side of the steel hull it is reported that 12- 500 pound aerial bombs and countless smaller munitions lay undisturbed. Surprisingly, late on that wet and windy night so many years ago the ship rolled down the steep wall and landed on a very narrow ledge. By all accounts it should have kept rolling to the bottom, another 250 feet.
Fast forward to today, and the Zalinski is back in the news with the Canadian Coast Guard planning to remove the 600 or so tonnes of bunker oil (unclear if they plan on removing the bombs) that lay entombed inside.
The media is reporting that this will help bolster the government’s claim that the Canadian Coast Guard’s oil spill response capability is “world class” and can handily deal with ever-increasing LNG and bitumen tanker proposals facing the Great Bear Rainforest.
But I don’t follow.
First off, the Coast Guard had 70 years to figure out how to clean up the Zalinski wreck, yet suddenly they are spending a reported $50 million (and probably substantially more) during the winter storm season? The cleanup of the Zalinski is conveniently timed to coincide with the December decision by the National Energy Board on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal.
The other issue that raises eyebrows is Canada’s choice of hiring the Dutch company Mammoet to do the cleanup. This seems to tell us more about Dutch capabilities than our own.
And what does the Zalinski have to do with modern Canadian oil spill clean up capabilities? The ship is sitting in one hundred feet of water in the relatively calm and protected waters of Grenville Channel. These are dream maritime conditions for an oil spill clean up by any standards on this coast. If the ship had kept rolling on that late night so many years ago, more than likely the Coast Guard would have continued to ignore the problem similar to its ongoing response to the Queen of the North wreck.
The Grenville Channel does get strong current but it cannot be compared to the treacherous waters that the 1500 foot long, 2 million barrel capacity VLCC tankers that are proposed to ply our coast, just a few miles to the south, would have to face each day.
The best thing that this $50 million dollar cleanup will achieve is something that should have been done years ago and at the expense of the U.S. government (it was their ship that sank after all) yet somehow Canadians are supposed to feel comforted by our Coast Guard’s ability to conduct serious oil spill response and cleanup? And that’s assuming they actually succeed in sucking the oil out of this wreck.
While the Canadian Coast Guard and their Dutch-for-hire spill recovery company fiddles around with the Zalinski, the real and more pressing issue of oil spill response capabilities continues to build with the onset of winter weather and the looming decision by the National Energy Board.
The waters just to the south of Grenville Channel have been listed by Environment Canada as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world with recorded waves close to 100 feet in height. This is where a major shipping disaster would most likely take place. It is here that Canada will have to prove its ability to respond to an Exxon Valdez size –or much greater- oil spill disaster.
Not in the quiet waters of Grenville channel – 70 years late.
By Claire Hume, Pacific Wild Intern
In response to growing opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, alternative methods of transporting bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia are being explored. One such option is rail, with proponents saying use of the existing CN infrastructure is a safer and less environmentally invasive solution. Compared to the devastation that would be caused by major pipeline accidents, the use of trains to move oil seems like a less threatening choice. But is it really?
NathanVanderklippe recently reported in The Globe and Mail, that even Canada’s national railway companies admit to having more accidents than pipelines. As well they should. It turns out that, in comparison to pipelines, trains moving liquids in North America are three times more likely to be involved in an incident leading to loss of human life – and nine times more likely to cause a fire or explosion. Those frightening statistics are compiled not by worried environmentalists, but by the U.S. State Department.
In 2005 a faulty rail caused a CN train to derail at Lake Wabamun, a popular lake 65 kilometers west of Edmonton. The crash spilled a million litres of bunker oil, 700,000 of which ended up in the lake. It took more than two years to clean up Lake Wabamun after the CN derailment, and the fish in this once great angling lake are still unsafe to eat.
Between Prince George and Prince Rupert the CN Rail Line crosses hundreds of watersheds, including the Fraser and Skeena Rivers – Canada’s two most important salmon rivers. West of Hazelton, B.C. the railway parallels the Skeena, any derailment in this region could be devastating for the future of Canadian salmon.
CN train derailments are, unfortunately, not uncommon events. In fact, in the first week of 2013 two trains flew off the tracks in separate incidents. The first, occurring January 3rd, involved three train cars sliding off an overpass onto the Sea to Sky highway below. A mere three days later, a CN train in Illinois failed to stop when it reached the end of the track, crumpled into a heap, and rolled down a steep embankment. And, on January 23, a train carrying crude oil in Paynton Saskatoon collided with a road grader resulting in the derailment of the engine and sixteen cars, as well as the death of one person. At the moment it is unclear how much oil has been spilt but each tanker has the capacity to hold up to 650 barrels. In response to the collision, CN has temporarily closed its north line and is sending vacuum trucks to try and contain the oil leak.
Faulty equipment, operator fatigue, cell phone, and marijuana use have all been listed as official causes of train derailment by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. If a train can be derailed and sent flying into a lake by as little as a breached beaver dam, as occurred in Nakina Ontario in 1992, I can’t imagine how anyone would thinking running bitumen filled trains along the country’s most important salmon rivers is a realistic solution to the pipeline problem.
People and organizations who are opposed to the Northern Gateway project, of course, are concerned with more than just how industry proposes to move Alberta oil across B.C. to coastal ports. Regardless of whether the bitumen is transported in a new pipeline system or by enormous chains of clanking rail cars, at the end of the line it is still destined to be loaded into super tankers for export off shore. The use of tankers along B.C.’s coast threatens the health and survival of one of the world’s most spectacular shorelines. Navigating the waters of Western Canada in an oil tanker poses a challenging task and any type of spill could inflict devastating damage on the region. There is also growing concern over the impact of engine noise on marine animals, such as whales who rely on echolocation to communicate, travel safely around obstacles, and find food. A drastic increase in marine noise levels could drive animals away from the region, their critical habitat, or injure and kill the ones left behind.
For Pacific Wild, the ‘No Tankers’ stance remains consistent. Regardless of whether the oil is moved by pipes or rail, the end result still involves tankers that would put the Great Bear Rainforest at great risk.
LAUNCH EVENT: January 14, 3pm – 8pm outside the hearings at Burrard & Nelson
HOPE IN THE PARK: January 15-18, 8am – 8pm, Nelson Park, Nelson & Thurlow. *Projections will begin at 4:30 pm.
Hope the whale is live in Vancouver all week long to help your voice get heard, amplify your message and share content and messaging against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.
As the Enbridge Joint Review Panel sits to hear oral statements from the public in Vancouver this week, Hope the whale will sit in Nelson Park and project messages of hope and a vision of a health future.
Hope is a 25 foot interactive, multimedia whale sculpture. Hope is part of a digital/real world ecology of interactions between blogs, tweets, news coverage, Facebook posts, pictures, video and messages written out in sharpies.
by Sarah Stoner
I arrived at the Delta Hotel about half an hour early. There had been so much hype about protests and security I didn’t really know what to expect. I made my way to the third floor and in my angst, realized that I was the first to arrive. I signed in and decided to go check out the rally outside. There were about a hundred people gathered in solidarity to express their opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project and the way in which the public had somehow been excluded from the “public hearings”.
As it approached one o’clock, the crowd dispersed quickly in order to make it to the offsite location to view the live broadcast of the “public hearings” taking place inside the Delta. I made my way back upstairs.
Those of us that were registered to speak that afternoon gathered in a room down the hall from the actual hearing room. There was a projection screen with the actual hearings being video-cast in this room, so at least we could see what type of an environment we were to be speaking in. We were allowed to have one guest with us, which was definitely a relief in this intimidating environment. The Joint Review Panel officials brought speakers in three at a time, while the rest of waited patiently for our turns. Once you were done presenting your oral statement, you weren’t allowed to return back to the viewing room. If you wanted to watch the presenters that came after you, you were asked to go to the offsite viewing location. Luckily, I presented second to last so was able to watch all of my fellow presenters from the comfort of the waiting room screen down the hall.
I was definitely very nervous when it was my turn to talk. My heart was pounding so hard it made my voice quiver. Despite the nerves and the overly intimidating environment, the experience was empowering and I felt great afterwards.
Below is the speech I presented to the JRP. As a staff member of Pacific Wild and a passionate advocate for keeping our coast oil-free, I would be happy to answer any questions or provide advice to those of you that will be giving their oral statements in the coming weeks. Please feel free to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear members of the Joint Review Panel,
It’s a pleasure to meet you again. We crossed paths at the Oral Hearings in Hartley Bay nearly a year ago now, but let me re-introduce myself.
My name is Sarah Stoner and I am a resident of Denny Island on the Central Coast of B.C.
I have lived in British Columbia my whole life. I grew up travelling like a yo-yo between Vancouver and Whistler, Mum’s and Dad’s houses respectively. I learned to love the mountains and the ocean at a young age and spent lots of time outdoors exploring what has come to be known as Beautiful British Columbia.
I completed my BA in Geography and Environmental Studies at UVic and went on to pursue a master’s degree in Disaster Planning. My research focused on evaluating the social vulnerability of people living in urban, rural and remote communities on southern Vancouver Island to natural hazards.
Over the last five years, I have stepped outside of my ‘southern B.C. comfort zone’ and started to explore the Northern regions of our beautiful province. I have lived and travelled from Prince George to Haida Gwaii, and from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. Last spring, my partner, Michael Reid and I, moved aboard our sailboat, Skomalt. Our destination was the North Coast and we were fortunate enough to spend the summer months exploring, working and living between Bella Bella and Hartley Bay.
You have now visited both of these communities and know that they are each unique blends of human and natural ecosystems, modernity and tradition. But where you haven’t been are the places in between. And these places, I assure you, are some of the most sacred in the world.
British Columbia is a province that prides itself on its’ natural heritage and has invested a huge amount of resources into diversifying its’ extraction based economy through developing the tourism and eco-tourism sectors. We have done this successfully, welcoming an average of 5.6 million visitors per year, generating around 12 billion dollars and over 120,000 direct jobs to help foster a sustainable economy. People are drawn to B.C. from all over the world to experience what is a true wilderness.
B.C. is home to the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. You might have heard of it, it’s come to be known as the Great Bear Rainforest. But, as Helen Clifton, matriarch of the Gitga’at Nation once said: “what will be great about it when there are tankers here?”
And this is a question we must ask ourselves. Turning one of the world’s most pristine and wild ecosystems into a supertanker freeway would be detrimental to the social, environmental and economic systems that maintain our ways of life.
The recommendation you make on the proposed ENGP matters deeply to me and the direct and indirect impacts that this proposed project may have would be devastating. Devastating to me as an individual, to my family, to our community, and to all of our neighbours up and down the coast.
Personally, the impacts of supertankers running through Douglas Channel and out to the open ocean would first off deter me from visiting areas along, and within view of, the tanker route. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one avoiding the route. I’ve spoken to tourism operators in the Great Bear Rainforest and that’s exactly what they’ve said: If Enbridge comes here, we’ll just have to go someplace else where our guests won’t see the tankers.
When living, travelling and working aboard Skomalt, there are many things that I have come to love doing that would be directly impacted by the introduction of oil supertankers to the Great Bear Rainforest. It is rare to go a day travelling the waters of the Central and North Coast of B.C. without seeing some species of cetacean, whether it be porpoises, white sided dolphins, the endangered orca or the threatened humpback.
The deep fjords and narrow channels of the Great Bear Rainforest are some of the quietest oceans in the world, creating acoustic sanctuaries where these cetaceans can echolocate, feed, socialize and practice their mating songs.
When we sight cetaceans from our sailboat, one of the first things we do is drop our hydrophone (a portable, underwater microphone) so we can listen to the whales or dolphins communicate. There is nothing more phenomenal than hearing a school of dolphins giggle away underwater as you watch them splish, splash, jump and twirl on the waters’ surface. The main thing that interferes with us listening to cetaceans via hydrophones, and thus interferes with cetaceans being able to communicate, echolocate and feed is the sound of ships. You can hear a ship underwater long before you can see it approaching. The sound emanating from a ship’s engine uses the same frequencies that cetaceans use, thus blocking any clicks, pings and songs coming from the many species of cetaceans that use acoustics for survival on a daily basis.
Another past time we have come to love while living aboard Skomalt is to hike
up and explore the many estuaries that intersect the coast to view wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and the illusive spirit bear. All of these animals rely on salmon as their primary source of food and in the late summer and early fall, you can easily find bears and wolves fishing in the rivers of the Great Bear.
This is how I came to meet my first Spirit Bear. It was mid-August and the salmon were congregating at the mouth of the river, waiting for a big rain to bring the water levels up so they could begin their migration upstream. We crept up the side of the creek bed and after walking for only a few minutes, I spotted his glistening white fur through the salmon berry bushes that separated us from the creek. I watched in awe as the giant creature loafed around, unsuccessfully looking for a tasty salmon breakfast. We observed this bear in peace for some time. He was aware of our presence, but was not concerned by us in any way. My first experience with a spirit bear was absolutely magical. This creature is a true gem, unique to this part of the world and just like the Dogwood is B.C’s official plant, the Spirit Bear is our official mammal. What will happen when a pipeline leak or oil-tanker spill decimate salmon habitat on the coast or in our inland rivers?
Exploring and learning about the natural wonders of the Great Bear Rainforest is indeed one of my favourite past times and I feel so blessed and honoured to be able to have spent time in this part of the world and to call this place home. But what is truly unique and inspiring is being able to spend time listening to and learning from the First Nations’ people that have called this coast home since time immemorial.
We have spent time in Gitga’at, Kitasoo and Heiltsuk territories learning from elders, leaders and community members what it means to really live on this coast. Being most familiar with the Gitga’at nation, I can say with confidence that their culture is rooted in the natural world, that the natural world is what provides sustenance and health to the Gitga’at people and that their traditions are dependent on what the natural world is able to provide. The inter-connections and inter-dependence of the Gitga’at Nation with their surrounding ecosystem is so deep that an oil-tanker spill of any substantial size along the proposed tanker route would cause a cultural genocide of the Gitga’at people. And we all know that it’s not a matter of if an oil spill were to happen, but when.
That leaves me with a question: how many years will the Gitga’at nation continue to thrive in the territory that they have occupied for thousands of years before they are forced to leave, to abandon their culture and ways of life.
And it’s not just an oil spill that will erode the culture of the Gitga’at nation and other First Nations along the Central and North coast, but the very proposal and this associated review process have already begun to have detrimental effects on coastal peoples. The very introduction of the proposal and the extensive and expensive JRP process has manifested into a source of stress for Gitga’at people and their families and has instilled a sense of “uncertainty about the future” (Gill & Ritchie, 2011).
And then there’s the expansion. Currently, ENGP is being assessed at 525,000 bpd, but what about Enbridge’s four-phase expansion plan that would increase throughput of 850,000 bpd? As currently proposed, the pipe would be built to accommodate this increased capacity. Will the risks ever be considered and adequately assessed, especially on the marine side?
And it’s not just ENGP that we are concerned about, here. In addition, five proponents have already, or are in the process of, filing applications to develop LNG export terminals out of either Kitimat or Prince Rupert on the North Coast. I have a deep concern that the cumulative social, environmental, economic, health and cultural impacts of these 6 major industrial development projects are not being adequately considered, as part of this environmental assessment process.
The proposed ENGP project, which seeks to export raw bitumen through one of the most unique, pristine and sacred parts of the world at the expense of entire societies and ecosystems, is absolutely not in the national interest. As a citizen of Canada, and a resident of the Great Bear Rainforest, I urge you to give the proposed ENGP project a negative recommendation, for the future of our nation, our economy and our planet.
I fell in love with the Great Bear Rainforest. We fell in love in the Great Bear Rainforest. We recently got engaged in the Great Bear Rainforest and we would do anything to ensure that we will one day be able to share this sacred place with our children and our grandchildren.
Just before the holidays, as the northern Enbridge hearings were coming to a close for the year, I managed to untie our frozen dock lines to head out for a few days assisting with some routine hydrophone maintenance while searching out some new future locations for hydrophone stations.
Joined by my Bella Bella neighbour Jordan Wilson and Tavish Campbell from Diamond Bay, we were excited by the clear winter waters flowing under the twin bows of our sailing vessel Habitat as we charted a course south down Lama Pass.
Our first dive was off of King Island to investigate a strange clanking sound that this hydrophone station had been picking up periodically over the last few months. This was the same station that first recorded extensive humpback whale song this past summer and the massive 7.7 magnitude quake off of Haida Gwaii.
Tavish dropped down to 80 feet but could find nothing out of the ordinary with the installation. This furthered his theory that the metallic noise was coming from a steel chain that anchored a navigation buoy off of Pointer light – a full three miles away. A poignant reminder of the sensitivity of these hydrophones, but also of the unintentional noise pollution we are already committing to these quiet waters.
We continued south exploring steep walls, old cannery sites and lone pinnacles rising from deep black water. At Koeye, Hakai and Kildidt the strong currents pushed and pulled us over kilometers of underwater wilderness. Each dive was as unique as a river valley; the subtleties of current, tide, depth and other dynamics reminded us why this coast is considered by many as one of the top dive locations in the world.
It is challenging enough to describe the familiar terrestrial environment of the Great Bear, but attempting to put words to the very cold underwater world here leaves the English language unyieldingly primitive. There is simply no way to describe the diversity of life, the kaleidoscope of colours and the jaw-dropping exquisiteness that each dive presented to us.
On the outer coast dives, with the storm surge and strong currents it was a challenge to not get thrown into urchin and barnacle encrusted walls, but throw in a large underwater camera housing and strobes and it gets really interesting. Nevertheless, I managed a few new images and as we enter the year of an expected decision on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, I hope some of them will serve as a reminder of why this coast must remain free of tankers.
P.S. Thanks to S/V Til Sup and Hakai Institute for the loan of tanks and an air compressor.