Huge ocean fertilization project 'breaches geoengineering rules'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A project pitched to locals as a way to boost salmon stocks was in fact a major geoengineering effort that breaches UN rules, it's been claimed.

Earlier this year, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) dumped 110 tons of an iron-based compound into the waters about 180 miles off British Columbia, saying it hoped to trigger a phytoplankton bloom to feed the fish.

"Ocean pastures are much like pastures and ranges found on land; they are complex ecological communities of plants and animals, however the 'grass' of our ocean pasture is phyto-plankton," says HSRC.

"This ‘Tang Gwan’ ocean pasture requires the same sort of caring management as terrestrial range and pasture lands including: resource surveys, ecosystem management through multiple use planning, restoration of damaged regions, and careful sustainable harvests."

However, the same technique has been suggested as a way of countering global warming, as the plankton bloom acts as a carbon sink - and this may have been the real motive.

Indeed, under the heading 'our reason for being', the HSRC cites articles on climate change way ahead of any mention of salmon.

The project was the brainchild of California businessman Russ George, who's made no secret of his ambitions, but whose ships have already been barred by Spain and Ecuador.

According to the Guardian, this particular iron dump - 100 times bigger than any previous experiment - has created a plankton bloom covering a whacking 10,000 square kilometers. It shows up clearly in NASA images.

And there are possible adverse effects on the food chain, through the depletion of deep-water oxygen, and an increase in ocean acidification.

According to the paper, the project breaches the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea, which both prohibit for-profit ocean fertilisation activities.

The signatories to the CBT will at least get a chance to discuss the project: they're currently meeting in India to discuss an even stronger ban on geoengineering. Meanwhile, Environment Canada has said that it plans to carry out an investigation.