Polar bear deaths from oil

Polar bear deaths from oil

Volume I I/Number 5/May 1980 He said that for many small islands, such as those in the South Pacific and Caribbean, coral reefs are the only natural ...

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Volume I I/Number 5/May 1980

He said that for many small islands, such as those in the South Pacific and Caribbean, coral reefs are the only natural resource. Already two are dead - one in Hawaii and one in Tahiti. Coral reefs are full of fish and plants, and without them tropical ocean marine life would be extremely poor. The environment of a reef is complex and very fragile. Although many species are involved in the construction of a reef, the removal of just one of them can destroy a vital link in the reef's food web. In the Cook Islands, overexploitation has destroyed the valuable mother-of-pearl resources. One lagoon which produced 117 tons of motherof-pearl in 1961, produced 83 tons in 1962, then one year later produced only seven tons. This pattern has been repeated across the South Pacific, and exploitation of natural stocks has now ended. Dr. Salvat's study group has identified the three main dangers to the reefs as dredging for sand, building marinas in lagoons, and uncontrolled fishing. These activities are a result of tourism, where resort sewage, and too much spear fishing and shell collecting play havoc with the reef's delicate ecosystem. Physical disturbance of the coral reef environment also seems to be linked to recent outbreaks of fish poisoning in the South pacific. The group's report says that proper management of the reefs could provide cash exports as well as food for the islanders. But a lack of scientific and technical knowledge could destroy the unique and valuable natural resource which the reefs represent.

Conservation Blue-Print A 'World Conservation Strategy', the result of three years of intensive research from governments and over 700 scientists and experts from over 100 countries, was launched in the Spring. The Strategy's main concerns include wilderness protection, fisheries depletion, water quality, and diversity of ecosystems and genetic resources. The plan highlights the role of wetlands and fisheries in food production, and states that the vast majority of marine life depends on fairly shallow or threatened coastal habitats. It hopes to control growing threats to the world's waterways and water supplies. The strategy concludes that toxic pollutants seem to be increasing in ground water, while acid poisoning has severely decreased fish population, and demands for water soon exceed supplies. It says that planning must ensure that exploitation of water and other limited resources does not affect the needs of fish and wildlife.

Oil B o o m Defences Strong criticism of the Department of Trade's Marine Pollution Control Unit (MPCU) has come from Harrier M a r i n e - a company that makes equipment for containing and cleaning up oil spills, though the ciriticism appears to have been aimed at the wrong target.

The criticism follows the failure of booms set around the capsized ship Tarpenbecklast summer after she was brought to Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England, as a 'safe haven' while salvage operations were carried out. The Managing Director of Harrier Marine, Mr David Harper, was speaking at the last day of the Oceanology International 80 conference in Brighton, England. He attacked the 'complacency' of MPCU, its relfictance to take expert advice leading to the incorrect use of the booms, and to what Mr Harper concludes is the mistaken conviction in MPCU, as a result, that booms are useless. Mr Harper is not exactly a disinterested party, but whatever one may think of MPCU's performance, the fault in this instance was not theirs. When Schmit, the Dutch salvage firm which took over the damaged Tarpenbeck proposed to move it to Sandown Bay to minimize the risk of pollution, Sandown residents and the Isle of Wight authority sought a court order to ban this threat to their own beaches. The magistrate hearing the case refused to grant the injunction, but made it a condition of the operation that booms be deployed all round the vessel. Admiral Stacey, director of MPCU, and the salvors had no option but to observe this order. The real question is whether it is appropriate for magistrates and judges to make conditions of a highly technical nature, such as this, when they have no competence or experience in the subject.

Seal Stocks The recent issue of the Natural Environment Research Councils' News Journal includes the first of what is promised to be an annual estimate of British seal stocks. This one opens with an account of the Council's duties under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and those of its Sea Mammals Research Unit now rehoused in Cambridge alongside the British Antarctic Survey. There is a regional breakdown of estimated numbers, status, hunting quota and whether it was taken up, and Grey Seal pup production for the most recent year for which information is available, ranging from 1973 to 1978, and arriving at the totals of 70,000 Grey Seals, Halichoerus grypus and 19,500 Common Seals, Phoca vitulina in 1978. The only area in which the hunting quota was exceeded (by 7o/o)was in Orkney. Another NERC publication, The Scientific Background to Seal Stock Management in Great Britain (NERC Publ. C21, obtainable from NERC, Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon, SN2 IEY) explains the manner in which the Sea Mammals Research Unit goes about its job and explains the rationale behind the seal stock assessment. W.R.P. BOURNE

Polar Bear Deaths from Oil Two polar bears have died from the effects of a controversial experiment which deliberately exposed them to crude oil. This experiment, conducted in Churchill, Manitoba, was designed to test the effect of an oil spill on large Arctic Mammals to help determine future regulations relating to Arctic oil exploration. ll7

Marine Pollution Bulletin

One of the bears died after licking oil from its paws and coat and a second had to be killed for humanitarian reasons. The third is seriously ill with kidney and liver damage; according to zoo officials at Winnipeg, the Manitoba capital. The experiments have drawn criticism from conservationists who have argued that the experiments were unnecessary because it was obvious the tests would harm the animals and were not worth the death of this protected species. Norman Shaw, the project manager has claimed, in reply, that the experiments will provide information that will protect a very substantial proportion of the polar bear population.

Waste Discharges in the Fraser River A public hearing was held in Vancouver, B.C., 18-22 February, 1980, under the auspices of the British Columbia Pollution Control Board to determine the need for advanced treatment at the Annacis Island Sewage Treatment Plant, located about 20 km from the mouth of the Fraser River. This treatment plant is one of three that discharge primary treatment effluent directly into the Fraser River estuary. The present plant provides primary treatment (solids removal), with chlorination and dechlorination, for sewage from the urban areas of Richmond and other municipalities south of metropolitan Vancouver. Conservation groups (government and private) argued that the Schedule B objectives of the Pollution Control Board were not being met for toxicity, and in any case, that the objectives for the lower Fraser River should be elevated to the AA level (requires that a 96-h bioassay with 100% effluent should produce no mortality in test fish). The Fraser River is one of the world's great salmon rivers, having runs of all 5 species of Pacific salmon, as well as trout and other resident species. It supports a $100 million per year commercial salmon fishery, as well as a recreational fishery and an Indian food fishery. It was felt that a valuable living resource such as this merits the highest possible protection possible, with advanced treatment short only of nutrient removal. The Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District, which manages the Annacis Island Sewage Treatment Plant, argued that source control of toxicants is the proper way to approach the effluent toxicity problem. It was their contention that legislation is needed to enable them to bring about such source control. They repeatedly pointed out the enormous dilution capacity of the Fraser River, and argued that once the effluent had mixed into the river water, it had never been demonstrated to be acutely or subacutely toxic to fish. An Advisory Panel which sat through the hearings, and included one expert from the Water Pollution Research Laboratory, Stevenage, U.K., will prepare a report for the Pollution Control Board. The Pollution Control Board, under the chairmanship of Dr C. J. G. Mackenzie of the University of British Columbia, is expected to submit its report within the next few months.

Canada and the Sea A local conference was held in Nanaimo, British Columbia, on 9 February, 1980, to discuss: (1) Mineral Resources and 118

Exploration; (2) Fisheries; (3) Shipping; and (4) Environment. An effort was made to bring in participation from government officials, scientists, academic personnel, labour and interested lay persons. It was sponsored by the Nanaimo International Development Education Association and is typical of public conferences of this type promoting public awareness concerning maritime issues on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Canada. The conference was organized in a series of panels, led by moderators, with brief remarks given by the panelists, followed by discussion with other participants and a final summing up by moderators in plenary. There was considerable interest shown in the Environment panel, particularly with respect to sea transportation of oil along the British Columbia coast and the prospect for further future exploration for oil off the coast. There was concern expressed about potential oil spills from both sources, and the recent IXTOC I oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico did not help to alleviate the anxiety about blowouts. In the panel on mineral Resources and Exploration, it was pointed out by one of the marine geologists on the Panel that the shore-based processing of manganese nodules could provide a substantial source of employment on the Pacific coast of Canada. The labour representative stressed that labour is not interested in jobs at all cost, but is now demanding protection of the environment against industrial pollution, and a healthy environment in which to work.

Moratorium on Uranium Mining On February 27, 1980, Premier Bill Bennett of British Columbia declared a seven-year moratorium on uranium mining in the province. At the same time, he ordered the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Health and Environmental Protection in Uranium Mining in British Columbia, under the chairmanship of Dr David V. Bates, to discontinue its hearings. This cut short the hearings by about four months and disallowed some rather important testimony to be heard. The announcement had political reverberations in Canada as far away as Saskatchewan, where extensive uranium mining is in progress. While conservation groups and anti-nuclear environmentalists generally applauded the moratorium, there was considerable disenchantment among participants on both sides of the debate on uranium mining with the discontinuation of the public hearings. An extension has been given to the Royal Commission to accept submission until 15 April, 1980, and it has until 30 October, 1980, to wrap up its affairs and submit a final report. However, this is still not considered adequate for finalizing the hearings. It was noted by the chairman of the local branch of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility that the Commission will miss the important issues, and that no judge would issue a verdict after only half a trial. While most of the uranium mining would be conducted in the southern interior of the province, there has been some concern that radioactive drainage from the mines and mine tailings would reach the vital estuaries by way of the rivers, and possibly affect the valuable anadromous species of fish in this province.