Environment Canada is reportedly investigating the dumping of 100 tonnes of iron sulfate off the British Columbia coast, after environmental groups slammed the geo-engineering experiment as an "illegal" violation of a United Nations moratorium.
But the head of the special-purpose company designed to carry out the experiment says the federal government was well aware of his firm's plans in advance.
John Disney, president of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp., told CBC's As It Happens on Tuesday that at least seven federal government departments were aware of the experiment meant to "fertilize" the ocean in an effort to restore marine life to the area.
"This has been on the radar of [agencies] like Indian and Northern Affairs Canada -- I file two reports a year with them, they've seen this coming for years," Disney told the CBC. "Everyone from the Canada Revenue Agency down to [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] ... they've all known about this."
Researchers were alarmed by the recent appearance of a 10,000-square-kilometre patch of algae bloom that was visible by satellite from space.
The bloom was the result of a $2-million experiment, described by at least one news report as the largest geo-engineering project in the world, meant to fertilize the ocean with iron sulfate in order to spur the growth of plankton, which in turn would attract other marine life to the area. The experiment saw 100 tonnes of iron sulfate deposited in the ocean about 370 km off the British Columbia coast.
Disney said that, as far as attracting marine life goes, the project that began in July has been a success.
"Everything in the ocean responded," Disney said. "Tuna, salmon, whales, dolphins, porpoises ... everything moved in. Everything got attracted to where the food was because everything is starving out there."
But the experiment is causing consternation among some marine biologists and environmentalists who worry about the overall impact of such large-scale alteration of the marine habitat.
Environmentalists gathering in Hyderabad, India, this week for a UN environmental summit said the experiment broke a UN moratorium on ocean fertilization, the U.K.'s Guardian reports.
"It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions," Kristina M. Gjerde, an adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told the Guardian. "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."
University of British Columbia oceanographer Maite Maldonado told the CBC that dumping iron sulfate in the ocean could result in the formation of toxic "dead zones" in the ocean.
The company's ocean fertilization experiment is made all the more controversial because of the participation of Russ George, a California businessman whose company, Planktos, has been attempting iron sulfate ocean fertilization for years. George's boats have been reportedly banned from the Canary and Galapagos islands as a result of the efforts.
But Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. has managed to convince some locals of the value of its efforts. The Haida First Nation, which is located closest to the Haida Gwaii islands where the experiment took place, contributed $1 million to the company's development evidently in the hopes of reviving its fishing activities.
APTN News reports that Environment Canada has launched an investigation into the experiment.
In a statement, the department said it "would be inappropriate to comment further."