The leak of bunker C fuel oil into English Bay from the grain carrier MV Marathassa on April 8 highlighted the need for baseline information for those seeking to assess the impact of the spill.
“There’s a major gap in the understanding and management of our coastal environments,” said Vancouver Aquarium CEO Dr. John Nightingale. “Currently there is no baseline information from which to assess the impact of an event like the fuel spill in Vancouver’s harbour. If the goal of cleanup efforts is to return our harbour to the state it was in before the leak, we can’t because we don’t have good baseline information.”
That’s exactly why the Vancouver Aquarium launched the Coastal Ocean Research Institute last spring: to establish a baseline to establish how our marine ecosystems are currently doing, and to deepen our understanding of future changes. Focused on a comprehensive, ongoing assessment of B.C.’s coastal environments, the Research Institute conducts original studies and will aggregate research, data and information from collaborating researchers and research programs along B.C.’s coast.
Today, Aquarium scientists are doing what they can to understand the impacts from the fuel leak by analyzing oil, water, sediment and shellfish samples collected from shorelines in the area. On Tuesday, members of the Vancouver Aquarium Dive Team also collected sediment samples from the bottom of Burrard Inlet for laboratory analysis.
“It is critical to obtain results from these preliminary analyses as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Peter Ross, director of the Ocean Pollution Research Program, part of the Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute. He noted the Aquarium’s independent analysis is taking place alongside that done by government agencies. “Results will be used to fingerprint the source of the spill, the spread of this fuel throughout coastal waters, and immediate risks to sea life,” he said. An international expert in ocean pollution, Dr. Ross has published extensively on the transport, fate and effects of contaminants in aquatic environments, including hydrocarbons.
“While undertaking immediate assessments of the fuel spill is extremely important we must do so in a manner that helps us to understand the cumulative impacts of countless activities on the health of our ocean,” said Dr. Ross. Population growth, and the accompanying expansion in industry, agriculture, shipping, urban development, and waste water discharges, is affecting coastal environments in ways that are not fully understood. The fuel spill highlights the need for long-term monitoring of those ecosystems, which doesn’t currently take place.
As part of the Aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Program, the recently launched PollutionWatch Project (PWP), a stakeholder-driven partnership designed to track ocean pollution along B.C.’s coast, will help inform oil spill assessments and monitoring. “Through PollutionWatch, we aim to implement a network of sampling stations along our coast that will establish a baseline for ocean health and allow us to track pollutants,” explained Dr. Ross. “The recent oil spill in Vancouver highlights the urgent need for such a program.” The project will depend on partnerships with First Nations and community organizations to help with sampling.
If you see wildlife impacted by the oil spill, you can call the oil spill hotline at: 604-873-7000.
The Vancouver Aquarium Coastal Ocean Research Institute is grateful for its generous founding funding partners Sitka Foundation and North Growth Foundation.