‘Food for Thought’ (Ocean Fertilization)

2013 proved to be an “interesting” year for American entrepreneur George Russ, chief scientist and CEO for Canadian-based Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC).  In March HSRC offices were raided by Environment Canada.  Their crime?  In 2012 the HSRC dumped approximately 110 tonnes of iron dust off the coast of Haida Gwaii into Pacific Ocean Canadian and international waters as part of an ocean fertilization experiment.  This, Environment Canada say, is illegal under Canadian law, and a violation of at least two international conventions - the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and the London Convention on the Dumping of Wastes at Sea.  Environment Canada’s actions may have come somewhat as a surprise to the HSRC who, despite not obtaining the required licence from Environment Canada, maintain numerous Federal Government departments didn’t just know about the ocean fertilization plan, but were involved in it. 

The controversy surrounding ocean fertilization was, perhaps, less surprising for Russ than the HSRC.  Under his now-defunct San Francisco-based company Planktos Inc., Russ had previously attempted similar experiments off the Galápagos Islands in 2007, and the Canary Islands in 2008.  In both instances, the experiment was halted before it begun.  In May 2013 Russ was removed from the HSRC. There are two arguments for fertilizing the ocean, of which the first is indicated in the name ‘Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation’ – boosting fishery resources by increasing the food supply.  Over the years, the Haida’s Pacific salmon population had declined.  Despite building hatcheries and repairing watersheds, the salmon did not bounce back.  Fertilization was seen as a potential solution.  The basis of the marine food web relies on phytoplankton – photosynthetic organisms that live in the upper surface waters, down to a depth of around 200 metres, the point at which sunlight does not significantly travel any farther down...

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Swimming through Ferns. Credit: Roger Tabor, USFWS (CC BY-NC 2.0)