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Dumping of iron in the ocean stirs wave of controversy

Oct 18 2012

An ocean iron-dumping experiment, resulting in a massive algae bloom off Haida Gwaii, will provide valuable, previously unattainable data, says John Nightingale, Vancouver Aquarium president.

However, scientific controversy continues to rage over the experiment, which was designed to increase food for young salmon and pay for it by selling carbon credits.

Nightingale, who knew about Haida Salmon Restoration Corp.'s plans to scatter 100 tonnes of iron sulphate in the ocean before it happened this summer, said he initially questioned whether it would break international rules, but decided it was above board.

A news conference with Village of Old Massett economic development officer John Disney, who spearheaded the effort with California businessman Russ George, will be held at the aquarium on Friday.

"I think they have done something pretty audacious," Nightingale said. "Science out in the open ocean is what we call big science and is typically left to governments with research vessels and equipment. If it was left to big science, trials like this would never happen."

It is key that the corporation agreed data should be widely shared and widely debated, Nightingale said.

There have been about a dozen previous iron-seeding experiments, but the largest was 10 tonnes. This experiment could show how much is needed to increase salmon runs, Nightingale said.

However, Tom Pedersen, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions executive director, said previous experiments were done in highly controlled conditions with intensive monitoring.

"I have seen nothing saying the monitoring off Haida Gwaii is going to continue for any length of time," Pedersen said.

"There are a lot of concerns that this could cause ecological impacts on the ocean that can be quite negative."

That could include oxygen depletion, making water uninhabitable for fish, he said.

Pedersen believes the carbon credits, which are supposed to repay the Village of Old Massett $2.5 million, will not be marketable to any reputable agency as the science is unproven.

"I can't help but wonder if they have been sold a bill of goods," he said.

Disney said data from the iron dumping is already proving carbon stays in the ocean, but results remain unpublished.

Environment Canada says it is investigating.

Disney said many federal government departments knew about the plans.

Fisheries and Oceans had a technician helping with ocean gliders and the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lent monitoring buoys, Disney said.

On Wednesday, a statement from NOAA said the agency had no idea their ocean drifters were being used for anything except a salmon research project.

"We are disappointed that we were misled," it said.

DFO spokesman Tom Robbins said an ocean glider program in Old Mas-sett, with DFO involvement, had nothing to do with iron discharge.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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