Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Prospect of oil tankers looms high as the focus of day two of the Ocean Forum

With day one providing a review of the environmental situation on Haida Gwaii to date, day two looked ahead to potential threats, none greater to the residents than the possibility of ocean tankers transiting along their waters.

With the potential of more tankers to come, especially with the Northern Gateway project in Kitimat, those fears are becoming even more pronounced as residents worry about potential oil spills and damage to their vulnerable ecosystem.

The findings of that review were provided in Tuesday’s Daily News, once again featured as the front page headline story.

Day Two of gathering features talk of how a spill might impact the Queen Charlottes
The Daily News
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Pages one and two

There are grave concerns about ocean tankers floating off the West Coast of Haida Gwaii after departing from Alaska en route to the West Coast of the mainland United States.

Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway project will bring a significant increase of tanker traffic to Kitimat through Hecate Strait, when by 2014 there will be 280 extra ships calling to the port.

Day two keynote speaker Rick Steiner of the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program said at the Gaaysiigang Ocean Forum in Skidegate on the weekend that spills could be devastating to the ocean's health and also to the community's health.

Steiner said that of the more-than 30,000 plaintiffs who sued Exxon following its spill in the Prince of William Sound after the Exxon Valdez sunk in the 1980s, 8,000 people have died.

Exxon has also successfully decreased the original punitive damages of $5 billion awarded in 1993 to $500 million in 2008, which they have only now begun to pay back.

"The impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on human cultures was devastating. There is no way around it. Everyone was scared of the future, took the money from Exxon and moved away," said Steiner.

He said in the small communities around Prince of William Sound, where the spill happened, there was change for the worse after the spill. Those who stayed, bore witness to increases in domestic violence, substance abuse and depression. There are other challenges, including forestry, which has taken a huge hit on the islands. A decline in U.S. home starts has shut Western Forest Products' operations on the islands. Officially, it is for now an indefinite closure, perceived to be forever.

But for those who have dedicated their lives to living on the islands, Haida and non-aboriginal, the goal is that there be a healthy ocean for their children and grandchildren to enjoy through the long-term.

It won't be easy. The ocean has not only a cultural link to people living on Haida Gwaii. It also has an emotional link, as well.

Negative interactions between farmed and wild salmon have been scientifically documented and include both ecological interactions and genetic impacts of inter-breeding. Inter-breeding of farmed with wild salmon can result in reduced lifetime reproductive success, lowered fitness and decreased population productivity over at least two generations. Wild salmon can also become infected with disease and parasites spread from farmed fish.

"We urge the province to provide adequate infrastructure to support current and future expansion of the industry," said Ivany.

"It must act quickly to finalize an aquaculture health management plan, and implement a comprehensive inspection system to discourage flaunting of the rules, which the auditor general indicates presently lack the power of effective legislation."

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