Cabinet’s decision to greenlight the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project is a step backwards for salmon and killer whales. This decision will have significant and permanent adverse effects on endangered Southern Resident killer whales and threatened Chinook salmon.
The approved expansion will double the capacity of the existing Port of Vancouver and Westshore facility (near Delta, British Columbia), extending it further into the Fraser River estuary at Roberts Bank. Some of the largest salmon runs in the world migrate through this area, which provides important habitat for threatened Fraser River Chinook salmon that rely on the estuary as a safe space to grow as young fish.
Construction will place further stress on the Fraser estuary, which has already lost more than 70 percent of its floodplain habitat. In 2020, an independent and expert review panel concluded that habitat loss and estuary changes from the expansion of the shipping terminal will negatively impact Southern Resident killer whales through the destruction of legally protected critical habitat, reduced salmon availability, and increased underwater noise.
This decision is at odds with Minister Guilbeault’s statements at the recent 2022 United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal (COP15), where he pressed governments to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. The Minister stated that “real transformative change, innovation and a proper accounting for the true value of nature in decision-making across all sectors is needed.” He also stated that “the health of our forests, oceans, animals and all biodiversity, underpins the very strength and stability of our societies. We cannot take that for granted any longer […] Now it is time to deliver.”
For the past decade, conservation organizations, scientists, and local community groups have urged the federal government not to approve the Terminal 2 project. In 2018, the federal government determined that Southern Resident killer whales already face an imminent threat to their survival and recovery under existing conditions. The Southern Resident killer whale population – an icon of the Salish Sea – is classified as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), and the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). Only 73 of these whales remain.
At a time of a devastating global biodiversity crisis exacerbated by the climate emergency, governments must do everything they can to protect species threatened with extinction. The federal government has a duty to protect endangered species from the dangerous impacts of industrial development under the federal Species at Risk Act. Today’s decision is a blow for all those concerned about species protection and conservation.
Lucero González Ruiz, Georgia Strait Alliance’s Biodiversity Campaigner, says:
”Everyone is in agreement about the damaging effects this project will have on orcas’ critical habitat and their main food source, and this project, combined with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, is increasing shipping and oil spill risk in the region at alarming rates. The population of L-pod orcas sits at 33 individuals – the lowest it has ever been. This is an emergency so , why does the federal government continue to choose marine infrastructure development in the Salish Sea over the health of communities and our shared climate? “
Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director at Raincoast Conservation Foundation says:
“All viability assessments of Southern Resident killer whales indicate their threats must be significantly lowered for recovery to occur. Approving this project does the opposite. It increases threats, worsens their feeding conditions, and increases their likelihood of extinction.”
Charlotte Dawe, Conservation and Policy Campaigner at Wilderness Committee says:
“This project is harmful on many levels. It will negatively impact life-giving ecosystems, species at risk, First Nation cultural use, public health and jobs as automation will replace dock workers. The Port of Vancouver are the only ones set to benefit immensely from this project. The federal government seems to have forgotten that they are supposed to govern for the interests, safety and welfare of the public, not the pockets of corporations.”
Dyna Tuytel, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice, says:
“The federal government has publicly acknowledged that the Southern Resident killer whales already face imminent threats to their survival and recovery under current conditions. Approving Terminal 2’s additional impacts in critical habitat while the government has no credible plan to address existing problems makes a mockery of the Species at Risk Act, which is supposed to protect this iconic species.”
Jeffery Young, Senior Science and Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, says:
“Extensive independent review, based on scientific evidence, has shown that this megaport would result in irreversible harm to Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident killer whales that depend on them.”
Since 2014, Ecojustice has represented the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and Wilderness Committee in the environmental assessment of the Terminal 2 project and in 2019, represented the group at hearings held by a federally-appointed independent review panel. The groups presented expert evidence about the impacts of the project, which included increased noise from vessel traffic and its negative impact on Southern Resident killer whales, marine pollution, threats to wild salmon and their rearing habitat, and threats to the other 119 species that call the Salish Sea home.
In 2020, the review panel concluded that the project would have “numerous” adverse effects on the environment, including “significant adverse effects on Chinook salmon” and “significant adverse and cumulative effects on Southern Resident Killer Whales”, which include destruction of Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat.
Since then, the Port Authority has made modifications to its original proposal that it claims will reduce the harmful effects of the project. However, this falls short of mitigation of the project’s effects and this project remains a serious threat to biodiversity and long-term survival of species in the area. In light of the dramatic and irreversible environmental impacts this project will have on Chinook salmon and endangered killer whales, this project should never have been given the greenlight.
The David Suzuki Foundation (DavidSuzuki.org | @DavidSuzukiFdn) is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, founded in 1990. We operate in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We collaborate with all people in Canada, including First Nations leadership and communities, governments, businesses and individuals to find solutions to create a sustainable Canada through scientific research, traditional ecological knowledge, communications and public engagement, and innovative policy and legal solutions. Our mission is to protect nature’s diversity and the well-being of all life, now and for the future.
For more than 30 years, Georgia Strait Alliance has been the leading voice for the protection of the Strait of Georgia. Grounded in environmental justice, Georgia Strait Alliance mobilizes and supports collective action to protect the Salish Sea region in order to achieve the vision of a Salish Sea teeming with life where thriving and just communities live in balance with the environment.
Raincoast Conservation Foundation is a team of conservationists and scientists empowered by our research to protect the lands, waters and wildlife of coastal British Columbia. We use rigorous, peer-reviewed science and community engagement to further our conservation objectives. We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.
Envisioning a Canada where wilderness and wildlife thrive for the benefit of all, the Wilderness Committee works to protect life-giving biological diversity through strategic research, community mobilizing and grassroots public education.
Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.
VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES
Image: Jason Puddifoot