Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Oceans Update Fall 2018

Letter from Executive Director Karen Wristen

We were fog-bound in a Broughton anchorage, on the outermost edges of any kind of reception, when the news broke.  I found that if I held on to the antenna of our portable radio, I could tune in a faint CBC signal.

I like to think I’m pretty articulate, but the noise that escaped my lips that morning brought my husband to the deckhouse on the run.  He found me still clutching the radio and looking somewhat stunned.  “Did you get a shock?” he asked with concern.  “You could say that,” I replied; “We seem to have won our case against the Trans Mountain Pipeline. In fact, it seems everybody won their cases!”

The euphoria may have been momentary, but I like to dwell on it from time to time. It was a long haul getting to that judgment and, legally speaking, very important work to do. Judicial recognition of the travesty that passed as an “assessment” of this pipeline and tanker project puts the lie to those endless claims by industry and certain politicians that the project review was unparalleled in its rigour in the history of mankind. It was in fact inappropriately and unjustifiably confined in scope and about as deep as the potential oil slick it failed to assess.

The government’s response to the judgment sounded like a school-yard “Oh, yeah?” to me. Of course, they would immediately complete the purchase of the Trans Mountain project, consigning perhaps as much as $25 billion un-budgeted tax dollars to the construction of a pipeline to no known market in particular.

The legal effect of the Court’s ruling was to set aside both the National Energy Board report and the federal government’s Order in Council approving the project, placing the ball back in Cabinet’s court. Cabinet returned the ball to the NEB on September 21, giving the regulator a scant 155 days to assess marine impacts, including those affecting Southern Resident Killer Whales. Recognizing (at last) that the NEB is a bit shy on marine environmental expertise, the government has offered up an expert to assist them.

We don’t know much about the process that the NEB will undertake to get to a new decision and we don’t hold out a lot of hope that the result will be a great deal different from what they found in the first place. What’s interesting is that, having made the determination that there will be adverse impacts on Southern Resident Killer Whales in the first go-round, they’re now pretty much stuck with finding a way to mitigate those impacts. That’s one place we, together with our colleagues at Raincoast Conservation Foundation and our lawyers at Ecojustice, will be directing our efforts. Monitoring and studying whales, which describes current government initiatives to help them out, is not the same as mitigating impacts on them.

Part of an effective mitigation scheme would be an effective spill response regime—which, of course, we still don’t have.

As I write, the news has just broken that Canada has approved the use of chemical dispersants for spill response. Most experts, even many who work in the civil service, agree that there would be few if any circumstances in which you could say that a “net environmental benefit” is achieved by poisoning everything in the ocean’s water column and on its floor, in order that the TV cameras should not capture images of oiled water fowl on beaches. Dispersants don’t work on bitumen blends in any event, so the government approval seems more than a little cynical.

And what of the potential marine shipping impacts on people and the economy? I recall the scenario put forward by Concerned Professional Engineers, in which a tanker experiences rudder failure and collides with the railway bridge at the Second Narrows, carrying part of a span on into the Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge. Similar accidents have occurred in the past and one would expect a thorough assessment of marine shipping impacts to evaluate and quantify such risks before assuming that mitigation measures, such as escort tugs, would be capable of preventing them.

There is much work ahead of us—on this file and on salmon farming, marine debris and much more. I hope you’ll read on to see what we’ve been up to and help us with the work to come. Your donation today means we can continue to put the expertise we’ve developed over twenty years of research and advocacy to work fighting for cleaner, safer oceans.

Thank you, as always, for your support!

Lousy exceptions by ASC eco-label threaten consumer trust and endanger wild salmon

Late this spring, while scientists in Clayoquot Sound were finding wild juvenile salmon infected with up to 20 lice per fish, salmon farms in the same area were selling their lice-ridden fish with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) “responsibly farmed” eco-logo.

In May, seven of Cermaq Canada’s Clayoquot Sound farms reported elevated lice loads, up to 10 times Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) management threshold. Five of these were ASC-certified, with three actively harvesting with sea lice counts up to 31 mature lice per fish. These harvested farmed salmon were entering retailers and restaurants bearing the ASC eco-logo and being marketed as ‘environmentally responsible’. Yet in reality, these farms were endangering wild salmon.

We and our SeaChoice allies called on the ASC to immediately suspend the farms. Following our media release, Cermaq “voluntarily” stopped using the eco-logo. A few days later, the third-party auditing company, who granted the initial certification of the farms, formally suspended their ASC certificates.

While we were gratified to see the farms suspended, the ASC has still failed to fix the crux of the problem: their sanctioning of a variance, an approved exception from the ASC Salmon Standard criteria, that allows B.C. farms to avoid compliance with the ASC sea lice limit 0.1 female lice per fish. Living Oceans and SeaChoice have formally asked the ASC to rescind the variance. To date, the ASC has not.

This is not the first-time salmon farms have benefited from ASC certification despite high sea lice loads. In 2016, Marine Harvest Canada’s Marsh Bay farm peaked at 23.77 mature lice per fish and Monday Rock farm at 19.68. Despite this, both were ASC-certified.

Living Oceans submitted a formal complaint about these certifications to the ASC’s accreditation partner, Accreditation Services International (ASI). As part of their investigation, ASI asked ASC to clarify the sea lice variance in order to allow them to determine whether or not the auditor was correct in allowing these farms to be certified. After putting off the request for clarification for the better part of a year, ASC declined to provide an interpretation of its own variance, thereby enabling auditors to continue to certify farms with high lice loads. ASI’s final complaint investigation report found the ASC is “probably putting at risk the program integrity” by granting such variances. Indeed, we concur.

Eco-certification of salmon farms with dangerously high lice loads is not environmentally responsible. Living Oceans continues its work to keep ASC accountable to its claim to certify only ‘best practices’.

(Photo: Clayoquot Sound juvenile with sea lice

Photo credit: Alex Morton)

Rising Tides: Living Oceans tackles Sea Level Rise

Living Oceans is reaching out to coastal communities to help them begin to plan for sea level rise.  Roughly one in 10 people live in low-elevation coastal areas and many communities at risk are small in size, with little in the way of resources to commit to solutions. And solutions are needed soon:  for most of B.C.’s coastal communities, sea levels have already risen and are projected to rise by 0.5 m by 2050 and by 1 m by 2100.  Our project aims to start the conversation about appropriate adaptation measures and provide local governments and property owners with tools to cope with rising waters.

Protect, accommodate, retreat, avoid:  these are the four strategies for dealing with oceans encroaching on land and infrastructure. Within each strategy, there are numerous approaches that can be taken. Some have the added advantage of helping to mitigate the climate change that is causing the problem in the first place. Not surprisingly, some of the greenest solutions are also the least costly and, if implemented over time, the least disruptive of the community, too.

We’ve worked for twenty years on various projects to reduce greenhouse gases and prevent the warming that is leading to sea level rise. The plain fact is that there is so much CO2 in the atmosphere now that there is no way we can avoid rising waters. The B.C. guidance of 0.5 and 1 metre is in line with several European jurisdictions and reflects the current projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Different communities can expect different impacts, because there are a lot of factors at play here. Land, for one thing, does not stay still: it may be sinking or rising itself, so that the impact of rising oceans may be amplified or reduced accordingly. The shape of the sea-bottom and the profile of the land can also influence impacts from sea level rise, as they may be more or less conducive to storm surges and other wave effects. We will explore all these factors in our workshops.

Our project is part of a broader, pan-Canadian initiative of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, called Educating Coastal Communities about Sea Level Rise (ECoAS). Funded partially by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, ECoAS is building a network of sea level rise practitioners to share resources and best practices, while motivating communities to begin the hard work of planning to deal with protecting public and private property. The project website,, will house those resources and already contains an easy-to-maneuver website with an interactive map.  The map allows Canadians to share local stories of impacts and solutions. When completed, the site will have regionally specific tools and guidance.

With additional support from the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Living Oceans will be offering workshops in 4 coastal communities over the coming fall/winter, two of which we hope to give in First Nations communities. We are grateful for support from the Islands Trust and Regional District of Mount Waddington, both of which have offered assistance in setting up the workshops.

Clear the Coast clears another five tonnes

Living Oceans’ running total is now up over 40 tonnes of plastic removed from over 1.4 million square metres of North Island foreshore—much of which we’ve been clearing over multiple years. Our efforts this year were somewhat reduced to fit the budget, but we were still happy to see five more tonnes of plastic removed from foreshore habitat.

We welcomed a number of new volunteers and reunited with some who’ve been with us from the start of our West Coast Vancouver Island cleanups. In all, nearly 60 volunteers participated this year in cleanups organized or supported by Living Oceans. Still others have clearly been getting the message and hucking debris into piles above the tide-line, where it’s much easier for us to collect!  (If you folks could just leave it a little closer to the trailhead, we’d be obliged!)

It was fun to see the awed expressions on the faces of late-season hikers when we descended from the helicopter at San Josef Bay parking lot earlier this month.  People who’d driven hours on the logging roads to spend a gloriously sunny day on San Jo’s white sand beaches instead set up viewing stations in the parking lot and watched us lift out over 60 cubic metres of marine debris. One vacationing couple even handed us a donation on the spot, thanking us profusely for our work to keep Vancouver Island’s northern beaches cleared of harmful plastics.

At the same time as we work to remove the plastics threatening wildlife, we’ve been working on developing policy in Ottawa to tackle the plastics problem head-on. With the help of M.P.s Joyce Murray (Lib) and Gord Johns (NDP), a non-partisan policy push was created that found favour in Cabinet.  This eventually led to Canada championing the Ocean Plastics Charter at the G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec earlier this year.  Accepted by only 5 of the 7 nations, the Charter has been criticized because it provides for only voluntary measures and does not truly come to grips with either restricting use or increasing recycling. Still, Canada’s commitment includes a $100 million contribution to ‘ridding the oceans of global plastic pollution’. No further details on spending have been made available; nor has any money been offered by Canada to date to assist with removal of marine debris from our shores.

Living Oceans is working in collaboration with groups across Canada to deepen the commitment to tackling plastic pollution at source. In a letter to the Ministers of Environment and Health earlier this summer, the group asked that tools provided by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act be used to regulate single-use plastics, microplastics and plastic fibre. While the letter has been acknowledged, we are still waiting to hear if the particular mechanism under CEPA will be employed.

We had the opportunity to meet with Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson shortly after returning from this year’s Clear the Coast and alerted him to the fact that none of the funding programmes offered by his Department will fund marine debris removal. This was clearly news to him; we suggested he add some dedicated funding to the Coastal Restoration Fund for the purpose.

And we wait in hope…

In the meantime, we must give a huge shout-out here to Lucy Graham and Matilde Gordon, two Australian women whose partnership, Passages Adventures, was created to plan and execute a paddle from Juneau to Victoria, to raise awareness about plastic marine debris. Provisioning their kayaks without using plastic and giving educational talks along the way, Lucy and Matilde also raised $10,000 for each of Living Oceans and The Tangaroa Blue Foundation. As if that weren’t enough, after kayaking all that way, they jumped in a car and went back up Island to help us clean up Raft Cove Provincial Park!

The main support for Clear the Coast has come from the Sitka Foundation and the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, both of which have granted funds over multiple years. Nachiko and Ted Yokota supported us for the third year running with a very generous personal donation, for which we are most grateful.

Thanks also to Jeff Duke, whose start-up clothing company Lifestyle over Luxury contributes a percentage of sales to help us Clear the Coast. Jeff truly lives his philosophy and his philanthropy:  he joined us at Grant Bay for a weekend cleanup in July and shared some sweet company swag with the whole crew (best thermal water bottle I’ve ever had!).

IKEA provided the blue bags that are so helpful for carrying debris to consolidation points.

Our volunteers this year are too numerous to list here, but please know we are deeply indebted to you all.

As always, it was North Islanders who made sure the big moving parts of the job got done: Mike Aldersey at West Coast Helicopters did all our lifts for us at his most discounted rates; Dan Carter provided trucking services to Port Hardy at rates so favourable we’re sworn to secrecy. And when Dan’s trailer broke down after a good shaking on the logging roads, we had a first-hand experience of how folks help one another out in the remotest areas of the Island: our thanks to Christoff and Ken for being there with tools, tea and tales (and portable welding equipment—who’d have imagined you could conjure that up just where you needed it?). The Regional District of Mount Waddington waived tipping fees at the landfill and helped us recover all of our lift bags for reuse next year. And big thanks to Port Hardy’s Fox’s Disposal for waiving tipping fees for the debris we cleared off of Malcolm Island beaches during our World Oceans Day beach clean up last June!

And thank you to our excellent volunteer Charles Lam for sharing all these terrific photos from our expedition with us!

Ocean Exposures Photo Contest 2018 Results!

Every year Living Oceans invites the public to help us showcase the beauty of the ocean as we advocate for its protection, by sharing their favorite ocean photos in our Ocean Exposures Photo Contest.  This year's contest was full of many beautiful and inspiring entries, and we were grateful we didn't have to judge them ourselves.

Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year's photo contest, we were blown away by them all. Thank you also to our guest judge Andrew Wright, and to everyone who voted for the SeaHugger's Choice award!

The beautiful photo above is Earl Hirtz's Orca Gold, which won first prize in our Coastal Wildlife category. Please take a look at some more of this year's winning entries  at the link!  More>>