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US seismic research in Canadian waters


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Groups go to court to stop US seismic research in Canadian waters

VANCOUVER, BC Aug 24, 2010

VANCOUVER – In the midst of a lawsuit launched by environmental groups, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has just granted permission for a controversial American research ship to conduct seismic blasting in a Canadian marine protected area. The Minister granted this permit at the close of business hours Friday night, despite an ongoing lawsuit by environmental groups challenging the legality of the permit on the basis that the ship will violate Canadian environmental laws.

Ecojustice, on behalf of Living Oceans Society and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, will argue the lawsuit in Federal Court on Tuesday in an attempt to stay the permit granted to the US vessel. The proposed seismic tests would threaten endangered whales in the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents – a Canadian marine protected area located approximately 250km off the coast of British Columbia. The lawsuit alleges that Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs cannot grant clearance to a foreign vessel that will harass marine mammals in violation of Canadian law.

“We are shocked that the government would allow seismic testing in one of Canada’s few marine protected areas,†says CPAWS National Oceans Manager Sabine Jessen, “The reason marine protected areas exist is to keep harmful activities from occurring in special areas that protect the animals living there, including endangered species like blue whales.â€

The research vessel R.V. Marcus Langseth would cause intense acoustic disturbance from a 36 air gun seismic array, which would blast at 180 decibels every 2 or 3 minutes. The seismic blasts would gather information about the structure of the local sub-seafloor and are slated to continue for one month. The Minister of Foreign Affairs granted the research vessel permission to enter Canadian waters at the close of business hours on Friday. The ship set sail for the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents from Astoria, Oregon at 10:30am (PST) Saturday and could begin seismic blasting as early as Monday.

“The seismic researchers’ own evidence states that they will be causing harassment of whales, and they were required to apply for a U.S. whale harassment permit,†says Living Oceans Society’s Oonagh O’Connor. “We are disappointed that the Canadian government has allowed harmful research in BC's waters."

"In Canada, is it illegal to disturb and harass whales and dolphins," says Ecojustice Staff Lawyer Lara Tessaro. "We're seeking to turn this ship around, to uphold Canadian environmental laws, and to prevent whale harassment in Canadian waters."

The case will be heard at 9am PST/12pm EST on Tuesday, August 25th. Justice Michael Kelen will preside over the case from the Federal Court in Ottawa at 90 Sparks Street. Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro will provide arguments on location in Ottawa, with lawyers from Columbia and the Federal government appearing by video link from the Federal Court in Vancouver (701 West Georgia Street).


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On a somewhat related note, perhaps less depressing note, I am becoming increasingly impressed with the ability of eco-minded lawyers (that are grounded in community-based concerns) to successfully navigate regulatory frameworks (and their labyrinthine nature) to encourage meaningful changes. I seem to be coming across that more and more when looking into toxic management. Hats off to those who can wear multiple hats!

Maybe there's still some grain of hope here...

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Just in...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lawsuit Improves Chances for Endangered Whales

The Federal Court decided today not to halt the American research vessel poised to begin seismic testing in the Endeavor hydrothermal vents, a marine protected area off the coast of Vancouver Island. However, while we were suing Foreign Affairs over allowing the research vessel entry into Canadian waters, the government decided to impose stronger environmental conditions on the vessel's operations in this highly sensitive area.

Our case gained significant attention and drew the public’s eye to the risks facing endangered whales during seismic testing. The risks to marine mammals are real, but we hope they have been reduced by our legal efforts. Or as Justice Kelen himself wrote in the Federal Court's ruling today:

“…in fact, their (Ecojustice, CPAWS and Living Oceans Society) imminent legal action may have precipitated the requirement for increased mitigation measures.â€

We hope that the government will continue to improve the protection of whales in BC waters, and we’ll continue to work towards better regulation of seismic testing in our oceans and for the full protection of endangered species in all of our marine protected areas.

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