Geoengineering project off B.C. coast blasted by environmental groups

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A private company is facing angry backlash following a controversial geoengineering experiment of Canada’s west coast. The company says it has dumped 100 tonnes of iron into the Pacific ocean that may have triggered an artificial plankton bloom up to 10,000 square kilometres in size.

It is being described as the world’s biggest geoengineering experiment off the B.C. coast. And critics are calling it a “blatent violation” of United Nations rules.

The experiment reportedly involves controversial California businessman Russ George. He teamed up with a First Nations village on Haida Gwaii to establish the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation to run the project.

The project consisted of dumping iron sulphate into the sea in a scheme to enhance both plankton and salmon and generate lucrative carbon credits.

Environment Canada said Monday it is aware of “the incident“. There are reports that the matter is currently under investigation by Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch.

The Canadian experiment first 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.”

There are reports that a large plankton bloom covering an area up to 10,000 square kilometres was visible off Haida Gwaii in August. However, 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 also lists many scientific collaborators including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a U.S. federal agency, and Canadian Centre for Ocean Gliders.

Postmedia News reports that 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.”

George is reportedly a long-time advocate of 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 has been a controversial figure for years. He is the former chief executive of Planktos Inc. 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. There are reports that George has been pushing various carbon credit schemes in Haida Gwaii for several years.

Guujaaw told Postmedia News that he hopes the experiment will not harm the reputation of Haida.

Critics say the experiment violates 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 to the Guardian. She is a senior high seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “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 experiment is expected to draw even more attention at the U.N. convention on biological diversity in India this week.

Haida Gwaii is unofficially known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. It is an archipelago on the northern coast of British Columbia. Haida Gwaii consists of two main islands: Graham Island in the north and Moresby Island in the south, along with another 150 smaller islands.

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