Canadian government ‘knew of plans to dump iron into the Pacific’

by Martin Lukacs (Guardian)

Aerial view of Haida Gwaii
An aerial of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph: Russ Heinl/Alamy

As controversy mounts over the Guardian’s revelations that an American businessman conducted a massive ocean fertilisation test, dumping around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off Canada’s coast, it has emerged the Canadian government may have known about the geoengineering scheme and not stopped it.

The news combined, with Canadian obstructionism in negotiations over geoengineering at a United Nations biodiversity meeting in Hyderabad, India, has angered international civil society groups, who have announced they are singling out Canada for a recognition of shame at the summit – the Dodo award for actions that harm biodiversity.

They are criticising Canada for being one of “four horsemen of geoengineering”, joining Britain, Australia and New Zealand in opposing southern countries’ efforts to beef up the existing moratorium on technological fixes for global warming.

The chief executive of the company responsible for spawning the artificial 10,000 square kilometre plankton bloom in the Pacific Ocean has implicated several Canadian departments, but government officials are remaining silent about the nature of their involvement.

In an interview with Canadian radio, John Disney said: “I’ve been in touch with many departments within the federal ministry. All I’m saying is that everyone from the Canadian Revenue Agency down to the National Research Council and Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada – these people, they’ve all known about this.”

The Guardian has seen government correspondence which indicates that Environment Canada officers met with Disney’s company in June and expressed their misgiving about any ocean fertilisation going forward, but appear to not have taken further action.

After the huge experiment happened in July, Canadian government officials were anxious to find out if the company’s boat flew under a Canadian flag and whether the iron was loaded in Canada.

A large number of Canadian personnel have been involved on the boat, the largest fishing vessel under Canadian registration in the province of British Columbia. Disney, who is also a non-native economic manager for the indigenous council in the Old Masset village in Haida Gwaii, told media that the iron was brought from Alberta.

Russ George, a colleague of Disney’s, told the Guardian: “Canadian government people have been helping us. We’ve had workshops run where we’ve been taught how to use satellites resources by the Canadian space agency. [The government] is trying to ‘cost-share’ with us on certain aspects of the project. And we are expecting lots more support as we go forward.”

Environment Canada officials refused to comment, saying “the matter is currently under investigation.”

“To clear these serious allegations of complicity the Canadian government needs to speak out and account for these events,” said Jim Thomas of the international technology watchdog ETC Group. “Officials need to condemn this dump as a breach of Canadian laws and take swift action against geoengineering: in Haida Gwaii that means initiating measures against Russ George and any Canadians involved, while in Hyderabad that means backing a global test ban.”

Sources indicate that the Council of the Haida Nations, the political body that speaks for all Haida people, is passing a resolution that any future decision on such projects will have to be ruled on by the entire nation, rather than by one village.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation was established by Old Masset village after they borrowed $2.5m dollars from a Canadian credit union, which provided the loan despite flagging numerous concerns about George’s credibility and his plans to try to win carbon credits for the project.

University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver told media that there are “profound implications” to dumping iron, and no guarantee that the ocean can be used as a carbon sink.

“They are not going to get a penny in carbon credits, because there’s no evidence the carbon is going to stay where it is,” he said.

Civil Society Petition: Withhold Endorsement of the Ocean Nourishment Project in Sulu Sea, Philippines

by International Tawi-Tawi Organization

We, civil society organizations working on various development issues across the Philippines, recently learned about the Ocean Nourishment Project being promoted by the Australian for-profit entity Ocean Nourishment Corporation (ONC) as a solution to Climate Change. It involves the dumping of tons of urea granules into the ocean to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton that would eventually sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

An article on ocean fertilization published in the 12 September 2007 issue of the New Scientist magazine revealed that ONC is proposing to conduct a large-scale field experiment on its patented urea fertilization technology in Philippine waters. It was confirmed from various sources that the target area of urea dumping is the Sulu Sea in south-western Philippines.

ONC and its affiliate entities are collaborating with the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) in Iloilo to conduct the experiment in the north-eastern portion of the Sulu Sea, near the province of Antique in Panay Island. We are aware that the Philippines is a signatory to the London Convention on Marine Dumping (referred to here as the London Convention) and have existing laws to stop marine pollution, namely Presidential Decree 600, as amended by P.D. 979.

We are deeply concerned on this Ocean Nourishment Project, particularly involving urea fertilization/dumping into the ocean, on the following grounds:

Serious questions on the scientific basis

There are very serious concerns on the scientific basis of ocean fertilization technology, whether involving nitrogen (urea), iron or other large-scale addition of nutrients or other matters. There are on-going debates among marine scientists worldwide on the merits and potential consequences of the technology. The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has noted that “…ocean fertilization remains largely speculative, and many environmental side effects have yet to be assessed”. We cannot allow the Philippines to be used as an experimental ground for this scientifically questionable technology.

Potential negative environmental consequences

Ocean fertilization has potential negative impacts on the marine environment and human health, including increased production of nitrous oxide and methane, unintended changes in the planktons that could result in production of harmful algal blooms (HAB, or \”red tide\”), , and unknown effects on the ocean food chain. This is particularly alarming in view of the Philippines\’ disastrous experiences with \”red tide\”, largely caused by marine pollution, which have severely affected the livelihood of coastal communities and have posed serious health threats on consumers.

Unknown long-term impacts on marine ecosystems

The long-term impacts of urea dumping on marine ecosystems in general and marine biodiversity in particular are unknown. There are no studies that show the potential effects of nutrient fertilization on seaweed and sea grass populations, as well as on yet to be discovered organisms The fact that the Sulu Sea is home to the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the few remaining large coral reef ecosystems in the world, is a strong reason to stop this project.

Profit-motivated Scheme

Ocean Nourishment Corporation (ONC) has announced its plans to apply for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for carbon-sequestration activity using this technology. ONC has patented this technology in Australia and is also publicly vying for the US$25 million Virgin Earth prize to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Social impacts

The proponents of urea dumping are brandishing that the phytoplankton bloom resulting from the induced nourishment will increase fish supply and will therefore benefit Filipino fishermen. This is a highly theoretical and debatable claim in view of the serious scientific questions and unknown environment impacts of this technology. Add that to the reality that Philippine fishing grounds are largely dominated by commercial trawlers which have severely marginalized small fisherfolks. The problem of unsustainable exploitation of fish and other marine resources must be addressed directly, not through misguided and potentially highly damaging attempts to fertilize the oceans.

WE, therefore, ask the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources and the Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources who are mandated to review applications for research in marine and coastal areas to:

1. WITHHOLD THE ENDORSEMENT AND APPROVAL OF THE PROJECT until all scientific issues on the theoretical claims of ocean nourishment, particularly urea/nitrogen fertilization, are resolved by relevant international scientific bodies based on thorough scientific studies on its safety, scientific soundness and environmental sustainability by credible and independent scientists. No permit should be issued for such activities until the London Convention has issued clear legal guidance as to the legal status of ocean fertilization and how it should be regulated.

2. CONDUCT A COMPREHENSIVE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT (EIA) of the project to ensure that it will not cause adverse impacts on the marine ecosystem. A thorough assessment of the potential socio-economic impacts of the project especially on the livelihoods of small fisherfolks, should also be conducted.

3. CONDUCT BROAD AND INCLUSIVE NATIONAL AND LOCAL CONSULTATION PROCESSES among communities and sectors that will potentially be affected by this proposed project.


London Convention: Climate campaigners oppose meddling with the oceans

Indymedia UK

On Monday 5th November climate change campaigners from Camp for Climate Action, Rising Tide and BioFuel Watch took action against geo-engineering (deliberate modification of Earth’s environment on a large scale) companies who are hoping to make a great deal of money from carbon credits by encouraging the growth of phytoplankton in the oceans . They claim this will ‘sequester’ carbon dioxide, a technology known as ‘ocean seeding’.

The campaigners held a demonstration outside a meeting of the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes. The meeting is deciding on the response by the Convention to the attempts to commercialise the technology. They gave out leaflets to delegates calling on the London Convention to take strong action against this dumping of toxic material, and held a banner reading ‘Toxic Dumping: No Climate Solution’.

Campaigner Sarah Mills said: “These companies don’t care about climate change they are just out to make a fast buck out of the carbon market. This risky technofix won’t work but it will be used to enable the rich to keep polluting the planet while the poor feel the worst effects of climate change.”

Leaflet Text:

Toxic dumping is no solution to climate change

What’s the solution to climate chaos? Renewables? Energy efficiency? Using less? Keeping the fossil fuels in the ground?

Not according to geo-engineering companies like CLIMOS, PLANKTOS, OCEAN NOURISHMENT CORPORATION and ATMOCEAN. They are hoping to make a great deal of money from carbon credits for encouraging the growth of phytoplankton in the oceans which they claim will ‘sequester’ carbon dioxide. Methods proposed include dumping large quantities of tiny iron particles, dumping industrial quantities of synthetic urea, and piping up nutrient rich deep ocean waters to the surface.

– It’s dangerous – Ocean seeding has the potential negative impacts on the marine environment and human health. Concerns include increased production of nitrous oxide and methane, unintended changes in the plankton that could result in production of toxic blooms and effects on the ocean food chain. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have warned that toxic tides and lifeless oceans might result from such geo-engineering activities [deliberate modification of Earth’s environment on a large scale]. One IPCC report said “geo-engineering options…remain largely speculative and with the risk of unknown side-effects”.

– It’s unproven -Science journal Nature published a study on iron seeding authored by forty-seven ocean scientists concluding that such attempts to artificially seed the ocean were unlikely to sequester much carbon dioxide. There is no way of proving how much carbon dioxide is stored or how long it will be locked away for. The scientists say their results “mean the end of the ‘geo engineering’ utopia that consists of artificially seeding the oceans with iron.”

– It’s a scam – Local and international environmental groups are furious at this risky gamble with sensitive marine ecosystems spurred by the opportunity to make a profit from carbon trading. Do these companies really care about climate change or are they out to make a fast buck? In the words of Planktos CEO Russ George “It’s really more of a business experiment than a scientific experiment.” Ocean Nourishment Corporation are expected to claim fishing rights on the basis of increasing fish stocks because of the phytoplankton blooms.

– It’s a red herring – Even if it worked, which there is no evidence for, ocean seeding is not sustainable or an equitable solution to climate change. Ocean Nourishment’s urea dumping scheme is depending on fast depleting natural gas stocks which may not in the future be available on the vast scale needed for ONC’s scheme. Ocean seeding enables a business as usual approach where the richest are able to buy the right to pollute while the poor become more and more marginalised. We have the solutions to climate change at our fingertips – reducing consumption, relocalising economies, and using existing renewable energy technologies sustainably

– It’s a threat to local economies – The livelihoods of millions of small-scale fisher families depend on the coastal waters surrounding the Philippines and Malaysia, but none of the communities have been consulted about the dumping scheme proposed by ONC. Wilhelmina Pelegrina of SEARICE in the Philippines said “Large-scale urea dumping is treating our oceans like a communal toilet. Our already endangered marine ecosystems are the lifeblood of our communities – and ONC must not be permitted to foul them for their own profit”. Ruperto Aleroza of Kilusang Mangingisda, the Philippine Fisherfolks Movement, said “This technology is unacceptable. It is a dangerous technology that could imperil marine environment which is the main source of survival and livelihood of poor fisherfolks in the Philippines. Under Philippine laws experiments like this must undergo environmental impact assessments and free prior informed consent of communities that are potentially affected. ”

We demand a moratorium . No to voluntary codes of conduct.

Climos believe that by offering to undertake a voluntary code of conduct they can placate the concerns of scientists and environmentalists.

Voluntary codes of conduct allow companies to make their own decisions on what is acceptable behaviour and are a deliberate strategy to stave off regulation by national governments and international organisations who have a responsibility to protect the natural environment in the face of dangerous schemes such as the one proposed.

– We call on the London Convention, national governments and international agencies to reject geo-engineering scams and promote real solutions to climate change.
– We call on Climos, Planktos, Ocean Nourishment Corporation and Atmocean to abandon these mistaken schemes.
– We call on all members of the public concerned about the future to take action on climate change and against the destructive impacts of these companies.

More information:

Canadian NGO, the ETC Group, has collated scientific analyses and civil society critiques of ocean dumping. Information is available at:

Planktos is a No Show in the Galapagos

by Sea Shepherd

The Planktos ship and its cargo of 100 tons of iron ore dust was scheduled to begin deployment of its controversial cargo the first week of August.

It was for this reason that Sea Shepherd Conservation Society decided to keep our ship the Farley Mowat in the Galapagos longer than planned. The crew of the Farley Mowat waited but kept themselves busy assisting the Galapagos Park rangers in their patrols and inspections of fishing operations.

news_070810_1_2The Planktos ship did not even leave Fort Lauderdale, Florida and has not yet loaded the iron ore dust for transportation.  Planktos has not been able to secure EPA permits to legally take the iron ore dust to sea. In fact, it does not appear that Planktos has the organizational abilities to deploy the iron ore dust for some time, if at all.

Nonetheless, Sea Shepherd will continue to monitor the project. Sea Shepherd has a permanent patrol vessel in the Galapagos that can intercept any ship that Planktos eventually decides to send to waters near the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

news_070810_1_1The controversial project seeks to sequester carbon by seeding the sea with iron ore dust to stimulate plankton blooms. The reasoning behind this project is that plankton will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then Planktos will be able to sell carbon credits to industries that produce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is that Planktos has not obtained the legal permits to deploy the iron ore dust, they have not filed an environmental assessment for the project, and the science behind their theory is both suspect and controversial.

“I am not judging them one way or another,” said Captain Paul Watson. “I do know that humans usually screw up when they seek to improve on nature but our opposition is purely a legal one. Planktos has to undertake an environmental assessment, they need to get a permit from the EPA and they need to get approval from the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, from the Director of the Galapagos National Park and from the Darwin Research Centre in the Galapagos. If all these agencies become satisfied with the project then we will have no problem with it but our obligation is to protect the Galapagos National Park Marine Reserve.  Right now the National Park views the Planktos project as a threat. Our duty is to intervene against threats to the Park.”

The Galapagos National Park and Sea Shepherd are concerned that the iron ore dust could drift into the waters of the Marine Reserve and there is no scientific evidence to determine if a plankton bloom in or around the marine reserve will be a good thing or a bad thing. Increased levels of plankton could mean depletion of oxygen from the sea that could be detrimental to other marine species.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is aware that Planktos is concerned about an intervention by a Sea Shepherd ship and crew. “They know we are not Greenpeace,” said Captain Watson.  “They know we won’t be just showing up to hang banners and take snapshots. They know we take any threats to the security of the Galapagos very seriously.”

Sea Shepherd donated vessel Sirenian (now Yoshka)
on patrol in the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Iron to Plankton To Carbon Credits

Firm’s Emission Plans Have Critics Aplenty

by Steven Mufson (Washington Post)

Cardinal Paul Poupard accepts a carbon-credit donation from Planktos chief executive Russ George, whose firm hopes to make the Vatican the first carbon-neutral sovereign state. (Business Wire)

A small California company is planning to mix up to 80 tons of iron particles into the Pacific Ocean 350 miles west of the Galapagos islands to see whether it can make a splash in the markets where people seek to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

Planktos — with 24 employees, a Web site and virtually no revenue — has raised money to send a 115-foot boat called the Weatherbird II on a voyage to stimulate the growth of plankton that could boost the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The company plans to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide captured and sell it on the nascent carbon-trading markets.

The boat is still in Florida, but the plan has already stirred the waters in Washington. Environmental groups say the Planktos project could have unforeseen side effects, and the Environmental Protection Agency has warned that the action may be subject to regulation under the Ocean Dumping Act.

Disputes like the one over Planktos may be the wave of the future in the new carbon-conscious era. As countries and companies seek to slow climate change, taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere can be financially rewarding.

In a bid for attention for another of its projects, Planktos said earlier this month it would offset the Vatican’s carbon emissions by donating credits from trees being planted in a Hungarian national forest. The company said it would make the Holy See “the world’s first carbon-neutral sovereign state.” It released a video that panned across St. Peter’s Square to music from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and then cut to Cardinal Paul Poupard, who thanked Planktos chief executive Russ George.

Other groups have looked on the company with less indulgence. The Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study, an international research group, said last month that “ocean fertilization will be ineffective and potentially deleterious, and should not be used as a strategy for offsetting CO2 emissions.” The International Maritime Organization scientific group, the Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund have condemned it. And a group called the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said its own ship would monitor the Planktos vessel and possibly “intercept” it.

On Wednesday, George appeared before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and lashed back at his critics. The EPA was working with “radical environmental groups,” he said. In written submissions, he said his firm’s work had been “falsely portrayed” to “generate public alarm.”

Planktos’s Web site boasts that it “offers investors the single most powerful, profitable, and planet-friendly tool in the worldwide battle against global warming.” Though its revenue amounts to a few thousand dollars, raised by selling “a few thousand tons” of credits to individuals and small businesses largely through its online “store,” the Foster City, Calif., company has a market value of $91.4 million.

Serious science is involved in the company’s ocean concept. Planktos plans to suck water from the ocean, insert the equivalent of a teaspoon of iron into a volume equal to an Olympic-size pool, and pump the water back into the ocean as the ship makes a grid about 62 miles by 62 miles — “like plowing a field,” one Planktos official said.

Iron is a nutrient for phytoplankton, which absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to carbon and oxygen through photosynthesis. The plankton blooms form within a day or two and last six months. The tropical Pacific Ocean is widely regarded as a good spot to experiment because there is relatively little iron-rich dust carried from land, but there are other nutrients. George said “it’s the clearest ocean on Earth because it’s lifeless, and it’s not supposed to be that way.”

George asserts that the potential is enormous. He said that the annual drop in ocean plant life was like losing all the rain forests every year. “If we succeed, we’ll have created an industry,” he told the House committee. “If we don’t succeed, we’ll have created a lot of great science.”

But leading ocean and climate experts have poured cold water on the Planktos plan by saying that the company can’t accurately measure how much additional carbon would be stored in the ocean or for how long. One reason: Some organisms sink and store carbon deep below the surface. But the overwhelming majority are eaten by fish or other organisms that convert the carbon back into carbon dioxide.

“Actually knowing how much carbon stays down there is a really hard thing,” says Daniel Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Schrag said the Planktos project could also generate new algae, which could reduce the amount of oxygen at depths that would endanger other ocean life. “Doing a large-scale ecological experiment before you understand the system is a dangerous thing,” he said.

Others doubt the benefits. “I think iron fertilization in the ocean is not going to make a significant difference to the CO2” problem, said Wally Broecker, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University.

There are other issues. The area is in international waters, so some critics ask why Planktos or any company should be able to reap profits there. And if the company started selling large amounts of ocean-based carbon credits, it could flood the market, reducing incentives for more reliable and measurable projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In addition, the benefits of reforestation projects are almost as hard to measure as ocean plankton, and people at funds that trade carbon credits are raising questions about Planktos’s Hungarian forest project. Although the project is in Europe, it remains unclear whether any forest projects will meet the strict standards for credits that can be sold in the European Union’s cap-and-trade system, where credits currently sell for $26.85 per ton of carbon dioxide.

So how is Planktos going to offset the Vatican’s emissions? The Vatican doesn’t emit much — about as much as 500 U.S. households, says David Kubiak of Planktos. To offset the Vatican’s current emissions, Planktos is using credits that it expects to receive from its Hungarian tree-planting venture — in the future. Those new seedlings won’t produce carbon benefits for eight years, Kubiak said.

The Vatican isn’t part of the E.U. cap-and-trade system, so Planktos can use the credits even if they do not meet E.U. standards. These are called voluntary credits because the buyers, like those in the United States, are not required to offset emissions. The voluntary credits trade at a fraction of the price that E.U.-certified credits do.

Many companies are calling for Congress to set standards for voluntary credits if it does not establish a U.S. version of Europe’s more rigorous cap-and-trade rules.

“The global market for voluntary carbon offsets is currently unregulated,” said Derik Broekhoff, senior associate at the World Resources Institute, “which has led to growing concerns about whether buyers are really getting what they are paying for.”

WWF condemns Planktos Inc. iron-seeding plan in the Galapagos

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today announced its opposition to a plan by Planktos Inc. to dump iron dust in the open ocean west of the Galapagos Islands. The experiment seeks to induce phytoplankton blooms in the hopes that the microscopic marine plants will absorb carbon dioxide. The company is speculating on lucrative ways to combat climate change. Reports indicate that Planktos, Inc. – a for profit – is planning other large-scale iron dumping in other locations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The current experiment could negatively impact the unique marine ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands.

Scientists have warned against this type of ‘geo-engineering’ schemes, which have – in the case of iron seeding – clearly shownnot to work and could harm ocean life (previous post). Simulations also indicate that such strategies carry considerable environmental risks and could even worsen the effects of climate change (earlier post). For these reasons, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change has clearly stated in its latest report that none of these techniques carry a priority to mitigate climate change (report of the IPCC’s Working Group III).

There are much safer and proven ways of preventing or lowering carbon dioxide levels than dumping iron into the ocean. This kind of experimentation with disregard for marine life and the lives of people who rely on the sea is unacceptable. – Dr. Lara Hansen, chief scientist, WWF International Climate Change Program

One of those far more feasible and less risky geo-engineering options is the implementation of carbon-negative bioenergy systems (also known as ‘Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage’ or BECS, see earlier post, and here, here).

According to a summary by the United States Government submitted to the International Maritime Organization, Planktos, Inc. – a for-profit company – will dump up to 100 tons of iron dust this month in a 36 square mile area located approximately 350 miles west of the Galapagos Islands. Planktos, Inc. plans to dump the iron in international waters using vessels neither flagged under the United States nor leaving from the United States so U.S. regulations such as the U.S. Ocean Dumping Act do not apply and details do not need to be disclosed to U.S. entities:

World Wildlife Fund’s concern extends beyond the impact on individual species and extends to the changes that this dumping may cause in the interaction of species, affecting the entire ecosystem. There’s a real risk that this experiment may cause a domino effect through the food chain. – Dr. Sallie Chisholm, microbiologist, MIT and board member, World Wildlife Fund

Potential negative impacts of the Planktos experiment include:

  • Shifts in the composition of species that make up plankton, the base of the marine food chain, would cause changes in all the species that depend on it.
  • The impact of gases released by both the large amount of phytoplankton blooms induced by Planktos, Inc. and resulting bacteria after the phytoplankton die.
  • Bacterial decay following the induced phytoplankton bloom will consume oxygen, lowering oxygen levels in the water and changing its chemistry. This change in chemistry could favor the growth of microbes that produce powerful greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide.
  • The introduction of large amounts of iron to the ecosystem – unless it is in a very pure form, which is likely cost-prohibitive at the scales proposed – would probably be accompanied by other trace metals that would be toxic to some forms of marine life.

In the waters around the Galapagos, some 400 species of fish swim with turtles, penguins and marine iguanas above a vast array of urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, anemones, sponges and corals. Many of these animals are found nowhere else on earth.

If you feel like protesting against Planktos Inc.’s questionable experiment – we do – then join us in writing to the company to express your concerns. Send your email to Russ George, CEO of Planktos