Gulf habitats under attack
This appeared in the Charlottetown (PEI) Guardian: Instead of taking measures to protect endangered whales and other fragile marine life in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, our so-called environment-friendly federal government is heading in the opposite direction. In recent weeks, scientists and environmentalists were sent reeling by the deaths of seven right whales in the Gulf. Several others entangled in fishing gear were cut free — one with tragic consequences when a fisherman died after being struck by a floundering whale.
It would seem logical that immediate steps are needed to protect this majestic species. The right whale population has dropped to approximately 525 and the deaths of these mammals are devastating.
Ottawa had announced plans to increase Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along our coasts and seashores — by five per cent this year, and enlarging that to 10 per cent by 2020. Yet Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc has said 80 per cent of that new so-called MPA would be open to oil and gas development.
The channel is a main entry to the Gulf from the Cabot Strait and Atlantic Ocean. It’s a key feeding and migratory pathway for whales, endangered leatherback turtles and is one of the only known mating grounds for endangered porbeagle sharks. The Gulf appears to be an emerging habitat for right whales, and scientists must figure out what can be done to protect them.
There must be consultation and co-operation with fishermen and shippers to protect the animals by rerouting shipping lanes, alerting fishermen to the whales’ presence and setting speed limits for vessels. Drilling increases the odds for more whale deaths.
Earlier this year, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board issued a new four-year, 52,000-hectare exploration licence for the sensitive Old Harry shelf in the Gulf. It gives the company more preparation time before starting exploration work this fall in the area between the Iles de la Madeleine and N.L.
There is still time to change Minister LeBlanc’s mind. We don’t want to see any more whales towed to P.E.I. beaches so scientists can confirm our worst fears — that man once again is destroying our planet one species at a time.