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salmonIn July 2012, California businessman Russ George made headlines around the world when he dumped 120 tons of iron sulfide over a 15,000 square mile patch of the Pacific Ocean.

For George, it was a geoengineering stunt intended to trigger a massive algae bloom in the Pacific Northwest. For Canada and the UN, it was very, very illegal.

After George dumped the iron off the coast of the Haidal Gwaii islands, the offices of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) were raided by the Canadian government. Funded with $1 million of his own money, as well as a sizable loan from the Canadian credit union, the HSRC was George’s attempt to revitalize an ocean region that had become barren of nutrients. Subsequent to the government raid, George was forced to resign his presidency of the HSRC.

Publicly, Canada lamented the outrageous action, but John Disney, the new president of HSRC, says the government was in on it the whole time.

“I’ve been in touch with many departments within the federal ministry,” he told Canadian radio. “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 thing is, the stunt seems to have paid off. In spades.

The largest run of Pink salmon occurred between 12 and 20 months after the HSRC’s iron seeding. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the 2013 pink salmon harvest was the second most valuable on record. In the northeast Pacific, the Speaker reports that salmon catches have surged from 50 million to 226 million. In BC’s Fraser River, catches shot past the average 25 million to an unprecedented 72 million.

In all, catches in the region are estimated to have grown by 100,000 tons. How could this happen?

In nature, iron can be deposited in the ocean from winds or volcanic eruptions. It feeds the zooplankton, which go on to feed young salmon and progressively larger fish and mammals up the food chain. George’s project caused an algae bloom of 10,000 kilometers, 10 times bigger than any previous test. The iron caused a boom in oceanic carbon dioxide.

But doesn’t excess carbon dioxide acidify ocean waters? George told TreeHugger’s John Laumer that the iron sulfide was meant to repurpose excess CO2 absorption in the ocean. “The ONLY means to deal with the already administered deadly overdose,” he explained, “is to use ocean life to repurpose that CO2 away from becoming acid and instead turn it into ocean life, biomass carbon. The only way to grow enough ocean life is to lend a helping hand in the form of replenishing the [iron] dust that has gone missing.”

Still, many environmentalists are still seething over the blatant disregard for international resolutions. “Even the placement of iron particles into the ocean, whether for carbon sequestration or fish replenishment, should not take place,” said Kristina Gjerde, senior high-seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation. This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research.”

Silvia Ribeiro, of the international anti-technology watchdog ETC Group, says that projects like George’s distract from the need to reduce carbon emissions. “It is now more urgent than ever that governments unequivocally ban such open-air geoengineering experiments,” he said. “They are a dangerous distraction providing governments and industry with an excuse to avoid reducing fossil-fuel emissions.”

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7 Responses

  1. kitemansa says:

    Is Silvia proposing to ban all agriculture? According to this exampe, it should be considered “open air geoengineering experiments”. And fertilizer? Ban it too? In what way is depositing fertilizer on the open ground morally different than depositing it on the open ocean?

  2. Eric Johnson says:

    There are many in the environmental movement that was a total ban on all fertilizer use, and for the exact same reasons.

  3. Tony Thompson says:

    My God something that worked. Let’s never never do that again. It stepped on our scientific snobbery little toes. Empirical evidence, we can’t accept that. No never never the experiment was out side our narrow elitist imaginations. Therefore kill such research. How dare anyone be so bold? These results must be ignored. That is the scientific method isn’t it.
    Sound like 1984 to you?

  4. Jim Vaughan says:

    I am confused. Apart from the potential environmental and food production benefits if there were 100,000 tones (or 100 million kgs) more salmon caught, even at a conservative $5 per kg, that is about 500 million dollars to the Canadian economy. Not bad for a 2 million dollar outlay. Surely the Canadian government must be investigating its potential. Governments seem to readily approve mining and oil drilling on pure economic grounds, which we know have no environmental benefits. Very confused.

  5. alfredmelbourne says:

    I guess it is bad for salmon farmers. Mustn’t hurt the poor people.

  6. Frida says:

    If you research the 12 previous iron fertilization experiments that led up to this private and unauthorized experiment you would understand that iron fertilization has many adverse effects on biodiversity, ocean and atmospheric chemistry, as well as long term effects that result in loss of macro nutrients and reduced CO2 uptake. Do your research folks.

  7. Frida, I fear that your summary of the previous iron experiments is somewhat overstated. More information here:

    https://www.nature.com/news/iron-dumping-ocean-experiment-sparks-controversy-1.22031

    w.

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