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Huge algae bloom off Canada triggered by company's 'fertilization' experiment

A 3,800-square-mile algae bloom in the Pacific Ocean off Canada's British Columbia has been traced to a California businessman who promised a local tribe he could help their salmon runs by fertilizing the ocean with iron.

The Guardian of London reported that Russ George acknowledged that in July his company, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp., had dropped around 100 tons of ore with traces of iron, calling it the "most substantial ocean restoration project in history."

"We've gathered data targeting all the possible fears that have been raised" about ocean fertilization, George reportedly added. "And the news is good news, all around, for the planet."

Planktos, a separate company started by George, has wanted to experiment with ocean fertilization as a way to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But Planktos has been stymied in bids to get government approval for the testing, which, if successful, could position the company to cash in on carbon trading credits aimed at reducing global warming.


Canada's environment ministry said it was investigating the experiment but would not elaborate.

Fertilization might be a way to soak up carbon dioxide, but it's also hotly debated among scientists.

"Some possible effects, such as deep-water oxygen depletion and alteration of distant food webs, should rule out ocean manipulation," John Cullen, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University, told The Guardian. "History is full of examples of ecological manipulations that backfired."

"It scares me," added Maite Maldonado, a  University of British Columbia researcher who specializes in the impact of trace minerals on ocean life.

"If you have a massive bloom or growth of this microscopic algae, you might not have enough oxygen in the water column at certain depths," Maldonado told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The project is 100 times larger than any previous experiment in iron fertilization, she added.

Moreover, the project might have violated two international resolutions, Kristina Gjerde, an adviser to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told the Guardian. 

"The placement of iron particles into the ocean, whether for carbon sequestration or fish replenishment, should not take place, unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation," she said. "This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research."

The Haida nation reportedly put up more than $1 million for the test under the premise that an algae bloom would provide more food for salmon. The test itself was done some 200 miles west of the Haida Gwaii islands.

"The village people voted to support what they were told was a 'salmon enhancement project'," said the tribe's president, who goes by a single name Guujaaw. 

Guujaaw said the tribe "would not have agreed if they had been told of any potential negative effects or that it was in breach of an international convention."

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