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OPINION: Oil spills threaten Gulf

Canada’s process to establish marine refuges and MPAs undermined by oil and gas activity



Re: “Fears for seabirds after oil spill” (The Guardian, Nov. 22). In spite of many objections to oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, these precious waters and our Prince Edward Island coast are still under threat of extreme pollution from potential oil spills. P.E.I. Save Our Seas and Shores, along with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation are once again calling on our provincial and federal governments to ban exploration for fossil fuels in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The Gulf, a complex and productive ecosystem, is one of the largest of its kind in the world with unique species, both year-round and seasonal (whales, turtles, sharks, etc.) and the right conditions for incredible diversity of life. Atlantic Canadians consider the Gulf of St. Lawrence a crucial part of our livelihoods, recreation and history.

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Our marine areas are under stress from pollution, climate change, overfishing, and other stresses. Refuges are needed, where marine life can regenerate, but there must be especially strong legal prohibitions on activities that might do damage there.

On Nov. 16, an oil spill off the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland leaked an estimated 250,000 litres of crude oil into the ocean, yet the Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) continues to grant oil and gas leases in sensitive marine areas, including the Northeast Newfoundland Slope Conservation Area, and the Old Harry area near the Magdalene Islands.

(The ‘Slope’ Area is a marine refuge where, to protect sensitive sponges and corals, all bottom-contact fishing is prohibited, but not ‘oil and gas’! No wonder that fishing organizations also object to this inconsistency.)

Another destructive problem with oil exploration is seismic surveys, which produce the loudest human-made sounds in the ocean aside from explosions. An Australian study published earlier this year found that seismic testing can destroy plankton populations, which underpin all marine environments, feeding the smallest and largest of creatures, including whales.

Although Canada has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020 as part of the international Convention on Biological Diversity, many of those designated marine ‘refuges’ and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are not protected from oil extraction activities.

On Oct. 16, a National Advisory Panel on MPAs issued its final report, which recommended that no oil and gas development should be allowed within MPAs. Unfortunately for Canadian MPAs there are no standard prohibitions on fossil fuel extraction activities, including seabed mining and seismic testing and oil and gas exploration is not prohibited within the proposed MPA in the Laurentian Channel in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

As recent history has shown repeatedly, oil spills pose too great a risk to these marine refuges; seismic surveys also cause too much harm. Canada’s process to establish marine refuges and MPAs is being undermined by oil and gas activity. We call on our federal government to put the panel’s work into strong legislation that will greatly reduce the risk of oil spills and other damage to the Gulf ecosystem.

And we encourage concerned Islanders and our P.E.I. MLAs to send the same message to our MPs and DFO Minister Wilkinson in Ottawa - protect the Gulf.

- Tony Reddin, for PEI Save Our Seas and Shores, and Sierra Club Canada Foundation (

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