These Southern Resident orcas breached off the coast of Hat Island on Sept. 21. Professional photographer Bart Rulon caught them while on a Puget Sound Express whale-watching tour from Edmonds. (Bart Rulon/ BartRulon.com)

LETTER: Planned port expansion in the Fraser Estuary would put the southern resident orcas at further risk

Dear editor,

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has applied to expand its container handling operation by building a 445-acre artificial island in the Fraser River estuary (RBT2). This estuary has been designated a Wetland of International Importance (RAMSAR site) and a Site of Hemispheric Importance in the Shorebird Reserve Network. It’s the only Canadian feeding area for millions of migratory birds travelling the Pacific Migratory Flyway.

Over 80 per cent of these wetlands have already been lost. Birdlife International warned “The pressure on the remaining habitats is now immense, with piecemeal development occurring across the entire estuary with no overarching legal framework to protect it. The warning signs of ecological collapse are there for all to see.”

RBT2 would be built in the heart of supposedly protected critical habitat for the entire population of 73 remaining southern resident killer whales. Five whales have died since 2016, mostly from starvation due to huge declines in chinook salmon as well as increases in ship traffic and underwater noise. Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) scientists warn RBT2 threatens the whales’ survival.

Twelve of the 13 chinook runs in the Fraser River are already at risk (with seven endangered). RBT2’s artificial island will change currents, temperature and salinity in the estuary, sweeping young salmon away from sheltering marshes into deeper, predator-filled waters. DFO warns RBT2 “will significantly alter the existing Roberts Bank ecosystem resulting in… large-scale destruction of fish habitat… loss and permanent alteration of large areas.”

These biological changes combined with causeway expansion will also destroy the crucial biofilm found in the area’s mudflats. Most of the world’s entire population of migrating western sandpipers stop here to fuel up on this biofilm. The Port claims it can mitigate damage by ‘rebuilding’ habitat, but Environment Canada scientists warn the impacts of RBT2 will “constitute an unmitigable species-level risk to western sandpipers, and shorebirds more generally.”

The Port says it needs this new island, but trade experts dismiss this claim, citing five other Canadian West Coast sites already available to handle any future long-term increases with minimum environmental damage.

Prime Minister Trudeau and Cabinet will decide soon: urge them to refuse approval for Roberts Bank Terminal 2 and protect what remains of the Fraser River estuary habitat. For a template letter to send to Federal Environment Minister Johnathan Wilkinson, visit https://bit.ly/3eirUCs and follow the How to Help link at the top of the page.

Gillian Anderson,

Merville

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