August 8, 2012: Last night and this afternoon concerned Northern Vancouver Islanders resolutely, passionately, creatively, eloquently and unequivocally said “NO” to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. Below, is the text that I used to guide my testimony to the Joint Review Panel:
My name is Jackie Hildering and I speak from the perspective of a marine educator who has lived in this area for 13.5 years. I moved here after a 14-year international teaching career choosing B.C.’s Coast specifically because of its extraordinary marine biodiversity and what I perceived to be the potential to leverage this biodiversity to motivate people to undertake positive environmental change. In my years here:
- I have worked as a whale watching naturalist for a company serving some 10,000 guests a year of which a conservative estimate is that 65% come from outside British Columbia;
- For 8 years, I was DFO’s Education Coordinator for this area;
- I am a humpback whale researcher; and
- I am a very avid cold-water scuba diver using my underwater experiences and photographs, in addition to the marine mammal engagers, in my education and conservation efforts.
I am the 2010 recipient of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray A. Newman Award for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation and have received written commendation for my work from DFO’s Director of Oceans, Habitat and Enhancement. I share this depth of personal background with you to fortify my testimony:
- On how extraordinary the marine biodiversity of this area is;
- The value of the resources being put at risk; and
- That this risk is simply too great to allow the marine transport of bitumen in the proposed area.
It is an inescapable conclusion that the transport of bitumen crude along our Coast constitutes a massive gamble where human ingenuity is being pitted against the resilience of Nature and our dependence on it. I can testify that this marine ecosystem is extraordinary on a global scale. I have photographed invertebrates that were previously unknown to science, and have participated in documenting rare organisms such a corals and glass sponge reefs at depths much shallower than what had been previously documented. I acknowledge however, that when there is such absence of knowledge, it is more difficult to make the case for how the life hidden below the surface may be impacted by this Project. Therefore, I will use the marine mammals and what we do know about them as ambassadors for the fragility of the other life below the surface. The marine mammals that have been acknowledged to be at risk in the area are the:
- Species of Special Concern – the harbour porpoise, gray whale, Steller sea lion, and sea otter;
- Species recognized as being Threatened – humpback whale, fin whale, northern resident, and transient killer whales; and
- The Endangered southern resident killer whales and potentially, blue whales and sei whales.
In fact, bitumen transport would take place through what has been acknowledged by government to be critical habitat for humpback whales, and what is candidate critical habitat for northern resident killer whales and fin whales. The marine mammals, to varying degrees, have survived culling and whaling but continue to experience the treats of reduced prey availability, bioaccumulation of toxins, ocean acidification and further impacts of climate change, noise, vessel strike, entanglement, and more. The anthropogenic impacts on these species’ survival would indisputably be amplified further by this Project due to chronic noise and increased risk of ship strike. As a humpback researcher, I can attest to how oblivious this species can be to boats. I have watched them surface directly in front of motorized vessels after previously having been 400 plus meters away. When one considers the size of the tankers, how narrow the inlets are, the difficulty in adjusting the course of these large vessels, the density of humpback whales, and the potential weather conditions – vessel strike of humpbacks is a very real risk and one that cannot be mitigated by the presence of marine mammal observers. The humpbacks are going to be there. Then what? Outside of concerns about the noise and further traffic impacts to the marine life, and what this means to their survival, the potential losses that would result from a spill are simply the stuff of nightmares. When something goes wrong – then what? It is my understanding that, at best, when there is a spill there would be 15% recovery. And we can’t hope for “at best” – seen Enbridge’s performance record; the likely wind and wave action that would be associated with a spill; that the federal government is closing B.C.’s command centre for emergency oil spills and centralizing operations in . . . Quebec; and that the closure of a Coast Guard base and three marine communication centres in B.C. will leave only two marine communication centres to monitor B.C.’s 27,000 kilometres of coastline. And after the spill, with irreversible and catastrophic loses, what mechanism is there to hold industry accountable? What is there when, concurrent with the review of a Project such as this with the potential for devastating impacts, the government is atrophying or removing the checks and balances the would allow appropriate assessment of risk? The latest Harper statement is that science, not politics, will drive decision making around such projects. How?
- The ocean contaminants program will be all but be shut down;
- Government researchers, whose work has been paid for by the taxpayer, are stifled in their communications;
- Bill C-38 has gutted Canada’s Fisheries Act, undermined the Species at Risk Act and repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and it was done in such a way that even the Conservatives could not vote against it since, to defeat an omnibus budget bill is to defeat one’s own government;
- Testimony at the Cohen Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye has made clear how government bodies are made to work with industry rather than safeguard our natural resources – even a keystone species; and
- Environmental governmental organizations are more overwhelmed than ever as a result of these many attacks against science and the environment in addition to now struggling under the needless scrutiny and vilification by our federal government.
This current government climate is the epitome of decision-making based on short-term economic gain over long-term environmental health. I solidly believe there is another economic path that does not put our resources at risk in the way that marine bitumen transport would and where there is so much to lose economically, socially, and culturally. As a result of my work, I believe we have not come close appreciating nor maximizing the economics of the international attraction of British Columbia for its natural splendor. Outside of the First Nations, our culture has largely been one of being gold-rushers, and I think we, the keepers of paradise, often don’t know that we are in it. We don’t fully recognize how extraordinary B.C.’s Coast is and therefore don’t understand adequately what is being put at risk. There is certainly an element of taking our resources for granted, and increasingly, that society does not appreciate our connection and dependency on them. Therefore, we fall short in our ability to attract and capitalize on B.C.’s international wild appeal and we are not inclined to move toward a greener economy nor to adequately protect our environment. I can testify to the potency of our Coast to attract those looking to connect to the wild, to view giants, and breath in the sense of space and raw beauty of this area and how I believe this can be capitalized upon economically, while creating societal good. It is of course so difficult to measure, but I will also dare state, based on my experience in the trenches of conservation, that the connection to the wild positively impacts, inspires, fortifies and empowers humanity in a way that cannot be achieved in an urbanized setting. [And this is where I virtually lost it and needed to choke out the remaining words.] We simply need places like this and can’t expose them to this kind of risk. My position on the decisions Panel should make is:
- The potential of environmental impact is too great and cannot be mitigated for;
- There is too much at risk – environmentally, economically, culturally and socially; and
- That therefore, transport of bitumen crude cannot take place along B.C.’s fragile and extraordinary coast and the Enbridge Project must not be approved.
Simply, we should be capitalizing on this being Super Natural British Columbia, not Super Tanker British Columbia.