Environment Canada is reportedly investigating the dumping of 100 tonnes of iron sulfate off the British Columbia coast, after environmental groups slammed the geo-engineering experiment as an “illegal” violation of a United Nations moratorium.

But the head of the special-purpose company designed to carry out the experiment says the federal government was well aware of his firm’s plans in advance.

John Disney, president of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp., told CBC's As It Happens on Tuesday that at least seven federal government departments were aware of the experiment meant to “fertilize” the ocean in an effort to restore marine life to the area.

“This has been on the radar of [agencies] like Indian and Northern Affairs Canada — I file two reports a year with them, they’ve seen this coming for years,” Disney told the CBC. “Everyone from the Canada Revenue Agency down to [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] ... they’ve all known about this.”

Researchers were alarmed by the recent appearance of a 10,000-square-kilometre patch of algae bloom that was visible by satellite from space.

The bloom was the result of a $2-million experiment, described by at least one news report as the largest geo-engineering project in the world, meant to fertilize the ocean with iron sulfate in order to spur the growth of plankton, which in turn would attract other marine life to the area. The experiment saw 100 tonnes of iron sulfate deposited in the ocean about 370 km off the British Columbia coast.

Disney said that, as far as attracting marine life goes, the project that began in July has been a success.

“Everything in the ocean responded,” Disney said. “Tuna, salmon, whales, dolphins, porpoises … everything moved in. Everything got attracted to where the food was because everything is starving out there.”

But the experiment is causing consternation among some marine biologists and environmentalists who worry about the overall impact of such large-scale alteration of the marine habitat.

Environmentalists gathering in Hyderabad, India, this week for a UN environmental summit said the experiment broke a UN moratorium on ocean fertilization, the U.K.’s Guardian reports.

"It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions," Kristina M. Gjerde, an adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told the Guardian. "Even 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. This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research."

University of British Columbia oceanographer Maite Maldonado told the CBC that dumping iron sulfate in the ocean could result in the formation of toxic “dead zones” in the ocean.

"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," he said.

The company’s ocean fertilization experiment is made all the more controversial because of the participation of Russ George, a California businessman whose company, Planktos, has been attempting iron sulfate ocean fertilization for years. George’s boats have been reportedly banned from the Canary and Galapagos islands as a result of the efforts.

But Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. has managed to convince some locals of the value of its efforts. The Haida First Nation, which is located closest to the Haida Gwaii islands where the experiment took place, contributed $1 million to the company’s development evidently in the hopes of reviving its fishing activities.

APTN News reports that Environment Canada has launched an investigation into the experiment.

In a statement, the department said it “would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Overfishing

    Many marine scientists <a href="http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issues_overfishing" target="_hplink">consider</a> overfishing to be the worst impact humans are having on the oceans. The Food and Agriculture Organization <a href="http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/06/story.asp?storyID=800" target="_hplink">estimates</a> that over 70% of the world’s fish species have been entirely exploited or depleted. By capturing fish faster than they can reproduce, we are harming entire ecosystems that interact with those species, from the food they eat to the predators that eat them. These losses make the ecosystems more <a href="http://explorations.ucsd.edu/biodiversity/" target="_hplink">vulnerable</a> to other disturbances, such as pollution. A complete overhaul of fishing policies, requiring global cooperation, is needed to achieve a sustainable system.

  • Irresponsible Fish Farming

    Fish farming, or aquaculture, is the growing response to wild fish stocks rapidly depleting. While it sounds like a good idea in theory, it unfortunately has many negative consequences due to poorly managed operations. Nutrient and chemical pollution can occur easily in open-ocean operations when fish feed, excrement, and medication is released into the environment. Farmed fish accidentally released into wild populations can also have <a href="http://www.fao.org/fishery/topic/14894/en" target="_hplink">destructive effects</a>, such as loss of native stocks, disease transmission, and damaging changes in habitat. Unfortunately, the biggest hindrance to overcoming the challenges of an industry that supplies nearly <a href="http://www.greenfacts.org/en/fisheries/l-2/01-fisheries-production.htm#5" target="_hplink">50%</a> of the world’s fish food supply is that it currently remains relatively <a href="http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issues_aquaculture" target="_hplink">unregulated</a>.

  • Ghost Fishing

    Ghost fishing is an environmentally harmful issue caused when lost or discarded fishing gear continues to catch fish and other marine life. Often times, the traps trigger a chain-reaction problem when larger predators come to eat the smaller ones that have been ensnared, only to get tangled in the mess themselves. The issue of ghost fishing is <a href="http://www.fao.org/fishery/topic/14798/en" target="_hplink">most common</a> with passive gear that has been abandoned, and also poses a serious threat to other ocean vessels. Stray gear can be caught in the propeller of a boat, damaging or even disabling it. Many solutions have been offered, such as fishing gear made from biodegradable materials or incentives like the Republic of Korea’s <a href="http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/projects/koreajpa.html" target="_hplink">buy-back program</a>, which rewards fisherman for turning in old gear.

  • Garbage

    This one is the most obvious. It’s astounding how much of our trash finds its way into the ocean. Animals become easily entangled and trapped in our garbage, and it can destroy delicate sea life like coral and sponges. In addition, sea turtles and dolphins often mistake plastic bags for their favorite foods, jellyfish and squids, <a href="http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issues_debris" target="_hplink">choking them</a> or clogging their digestive system. If that’s not bad enough, hopefully the <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090731-ocean-trash-pacific.html" target="_hplink">bigger-than-Texas trash vortex</a> in the Pacific Ocean and its <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100302-new-ocean-trash-garbage-patch/" target="_hplink">smaller cousin</a> in the Atlantic will help serve as a wakeup call.

  • Acidification

    The ocean absorbs as much as <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080521105251.htm" target="_hplink">one third</a> of the CO2 emitted worldwide, which keeps us cooler but makes the ocean surface much more acidic. This has the effect of limiting calcium carbonate needed by coral, plankton, and other marine life that <a href="http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/News2?news_iv_ctrl=-1&abbr=press_&page=NewsArticle&id=10341#OceanAcidifying" target="_hplink">use it</a> to build the skeletal frames and shells that protect them. Oceanic acidity has increased by <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification" target="_hplink">25%</a> since the industrial revolution, and will eventually destroy much marine life if it increases at this rate.

  • Dead Zones

    Dead zones are areas where the sea floor has little to no dissolved oxygen. These areas are often found at the mouths of large rivers, and are caused <a href="http://disc.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/oceancolor/additional/science-focus/ocean-color/dead_zones.shtml" target="_hplink">primarily</a> by fertilizers that are being carried in the runoff. Unfortunately, the lack of oxygen kills many creatures and destroys entire habitats. At our current rate, dead zones will increase by <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/2008/081114/full/news.2008.1230.html" target="_hplink">50%</a> before the end of the century.

  • Mercury Pollution

    Scientists <a href="http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/ocean-mercury-increasing" target="_hplink">report</a> that our ocean’s mercury levels have risen over 30% the last 20 years, and will increase another 50% in the next few decades. Emissions from coal power plants are the <a href="http://www.nescaum.org/documents/rpt031104mercury.pdf/" target="_hplink">primary culprit</a>, dispensing poisonous mercury that works its way up the food chain, eventually coming to us through the fish we eat. This <a href="http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=9899" target="_hplink">neurotoxin</a> can alter brain development of fetuses and has been linked with learning problems.

  • Offshore Drilling

    Offshore drilling continues to be a debate, but it’s clear that proceeding with oil production will only exacerbate the dilemmas of our oceans. The use of fossil fuels is the reason our oceans have been heating up and becoming more acidic, but offshore drilling takes the risks even further. When oil is extracted from the ocean floor, other chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead <a href="http://science.howstuffworks.com/offshore-drilling-controversy2.htm" target="_hplink">come up with it</a>. Also, the seismic waves used to find oil harm aquatic mammals and disorient whales. In 2008, <a href="http://www.livescience.com/environment/080625-oil-drilling.html" target="_hplink">100 whales</a> had beached themselves as a result of ExxonMobil exploring for oil with these techniques. Furthermore, the infrastructure projects to transport the oil often create <a href="http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/02/offshore-drilling-oil-false-hope.php" target="_hplink">worse problems</a>, eroding the coastline. These realities are another reason

  • Shark Finning / Whaling

    The destruction of the ocean’s most important predators has significant consequences that ripple down the food chain. 50 to 100 million sharks are killed <a href="http://www.hsus.org/hsi/oceans/sharks/shark_finning/" target="_hplink">each year</a>, either as bycatch from fishing vessels or directly hunted for their dorsal fins, used in an expensive soup popular across Asia. When finned, the sharks are thrown back into the water, often still alive and left to bleed to death. Unfortunately, sharks reproduce fairly <a href="http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/01/jeanmichel_cous.php" target="_hplink">slowly</a> and don’t have a large amount of offspring, so these actions have long-lasting effects on the delicate ecosystems they help <a href="http://www.hsus.org/hsi/oceans/sharks/shark_finning/shark_finning_faq.html" target="_hplink">regulate</a>. Despite the 1986 moratorium on many types of whaling, it still continues to be a problem, with some nations like Japan looking for loopholes and lobbying for lax regulations.


Loading Slideshow...
  • Top 10 Most Polluting Countries

    We look at which 10 countries have the most CO2 emissions. Figure are preliminary 2010 numbers from the U.S. government's <a href="http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/perlim_2009_2010_estimates.html" target="_hplink">Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. </a> (Photo Getty Images)

  • #10 - Saudia Arabia

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 493,726 (Photo MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #9 - Canada

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 518,475 (Photo MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #8 - Korea

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 563,126 (Photo CHOI JAE-KU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #7 - Iran

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 574,667 (Photo FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #6 - Germany

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 762,543 (Photo JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #5 - Japan

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 1,138,432 (Photo YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #4 - Russia

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 1,688,688 (Photo KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #3 - India

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 2,069,738 (Photo ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • #2 - USA

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 5,492,170 (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

  • #1 - China

    Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 8,240,958 (Photo PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)