Lost at sea: Rethinking big oil on our coast

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I heard a large bang first, then I saw the colours drip through the green emerald sea above me. “What is that” I thought to myself. I went up to investigate. So strange, a rainbow in the emerald green salty sea that was my home. I went to play with it. Ouch! The rainbow stung my gills, my eyes burned, my mouth felt poisoned. “What was this that had come to the doorstep of my home?” I turned to leave, to swim to safety – my little heart sank with fear – it was all around me. There was no escape. I could see my family just on the other side of the rainbow, they were crying for me to come to them, to leave this coloured shadow of death dripping from the surface above. It was closing in now – my small bubble of precious green sea was getting smaller and smaller. I made a break for it. I swam like I had never swum before. I pushed the rainbow aside and swished my way to the safety of the other side. The clean water was just in front of me. Almost there! I gave one last hard flip – I made it! I was safe! My family was gathered around beckoning me to the dark depths of the reef. I took a breath, my whole body burned. The oil had covered my scales and my gills. I could not breathe. I gasped and tried to pull clean water into my gills. I gulped and gulped. Alas, it was no use. My lungs on fire, my muscles tired – fear slowly turned to solemn acceptance. I would die now. As my belly turned to the surface I could see the shadow of a large vessel overhead, I knew it was of man, there were so many like it already littered across the bottom of the ocean floor. I wondered if we would die together in the depths of the Abyss, “Will the large thing fall with me?” The vessel leaked the rainbow oil all over the top of my precious emerald home, the sun glinted off the surface sending rays of coloured death to help me with my descent into darkness. As I slipped below and watched the light fade away I thought of all the breaths I had taken, of the taste of clean water, and I wondered, “How many more will join me?”

On October 13, 2016, the U.S. Tug Nathan E. Stewart crashed into the rocks near Bella Bella, in Heiltsuk First Nation territory, spilling over 200,000 litres into the ocean. Tests are still being conducted to determine levels of toxicity, and the extent of the damage is still unknown.

A Preventable Disaster 

The tugboat was operating without sufficient coast guard resources. Even though the federal government knew the risks they didn’t care because foreign interests and profit are more important.

There should be no exemption from environmental laws that are there for the protection of our precious natural resources. The Nathan E. Stewart is beyond tragic, it is a blatant example of where the priorities of our government lay.

How can we look at increasing coastal tanker traffic when we cannot even clean up a smaller spill?

We are all Coastal People

One of the privileges of living here on Vancouver Island is our connection to the ocean, the sustainable food that it provides, its transportation routes and its wonderful beauty – from coastal shores to the highest biodiversity in our entire nation – coastal BC is deserving of our attention and protection.

As an island boy born and raised in the Comox Valley, and as a trained commercial diver, I have dove over 1,200 times in our waters, interacting with marine life, exploring our rugged reefs and engaging in various environmental assessments of marine infrastructure projects. Having a clean ocean is very important to me.

Rethinking big oil on our coast

Everything we do, does, in some way have an environmental impact but there are things we can do to minimize our impact. I cannot think of a more deserving place to start employing sound environmental protection strategies than in the Great Bear Rain Forest.

I share the concerns of the Heiltsuk First Nation, the BC Public, and scientists, mitigation is different than prevention.

It is essential that we adopt the pre-cautionary principle when engaging in high-risk environmental activities.

If we pass an environmental law it should be enforced – not pushed aside for profit.

It is time we protected our environment. We cannot afford to continue in the manner we are.

Oil spills have no jurisdictional boundaries

While an oil spill in our ocean is considered a federal problem, the consequences are local and directly affect our rural communities.

A single tugboat has created an environmental disaster, yet we’re expected to smile and nod at an increase in tanker traffic along our coastline.

If the response to the Bella Bella disaster is any indication, there’s never been a more important time for the province – and those who represent its people – to have a greater voice in the prevention of oil spills along our coast.

People need to be at the centre of our politics. Regardless of jurisdiction, the people deserve to be heard. And no amount of foreign profit should be allowed to silence legitimate concerns and the voice of coastal communities.

Oil spills cross all political boundaries and when elected, it is my intention to ensure our coast is protected from future disasters.



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