Intense controversy has erupted over the prospect of manipulating ecosystems to offset the effect of global warming when more than 100 tonnes of iron were dumped into the Pacific Ocean off British Columbia (BC) this summer. The experiment by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC), which was globally condemned, had two purposes: to counteract the greenhouse effect and to determine whether ocean fertilization can replenish fish stocks.
It will be prominent at United Nations (UN) talks held this week to address an international treaty to govern geoengineering experiments.
Haida Salmon is a partnership between a US geoengeering company owner and the First Nation community of the Village of Old Massett on Haida Gwaii off BC, Earth Island Journal reports.
According to a press kit released by Haida Salmon, the firm began studying the open ocean about 300 km west of Haida Gwaii in 2011. In 2012, the group poured 120 tonnes of iron dust to create a phytoplankton bloom during the salmon feeding cycle.
Satellite images show that the dumping created a plankton bloom as large as 10,000 sqkm.
“The underlying basis of this work has been to enhance salmon stocks in Canadian waters. The jury is still out as to whether this will enhance salmon populations. The proof of this test will be in the return of the sockeye salmon to the watersheds around Haida Gwaii in 2014 and subsequent years,” HSRC stated.
This experiment was inspired by a volcanic eruption in Alaska in 2008, which dispersed iron into the waters of the Pacific; when the young salmon returned in 2010, the salmon run in BC was tremendously plentiful.
But the volcanic eruption is just one theory among many to explain the record-setting run, said Kenneth Denman, an oceanographer with the University of Victoria in BC.
According to a UNESCO report on ocean fertilization, “although uncertainties still remain, the amount of carbon that might be taken out of circulation through this technique on a long-term basis (decades to centuries) would seem small in comparison to fossil-fuel emissions.”
Regarding fish stocks, the report states that, “growth enhancement of fish stocks might result, increasing the yield of exploitable fisheries.”
“However, the science is still highly uncertain, the supposed benefits have yet to be demonstrated, and 'ownership' issues for open ocean fishery enhancement have yet to be resolved,” the report reads.
The UNESCO report also outlines potential risks, including toxic algal blooms far removed in space and time.