A private, US-based company has stirred up controversy by launching what has being described as the "world’s biggest geoengineering experiment" off Canada’s west coast, the Canadian media reported.
As part of the ocean fertilization experiment, a company owned by American entrepreneur Russ George dumped around 100 tons of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean in an effort to trigger artificial plankton and salmon bloom and generate lucrative carbon credits across an area stretching 10,000 square kilometers.
The iron sulphate was dumped off the coast of the Haida Gwaii islands in July after the company allegedly told local villagers that the experiment was "a salmon restoration project."
"It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions," Kristina Gjerde, of 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," she said.
Environment Canada said it is "aware of the incident" and was looking into it: "The matter is currently under investigation by Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch, and as such, it would be inappropriate to comment further," Mark Johnson, media relations officer at Environment Canada, said in a statement.
Ottawa's Environment Ministry has launched an investigation into the matter as well. "If this (experiment) happened, it would be in violation of Canada’s Environment Protection Act," Minister of Environment Peter Kent said.
Environmentalists warned of a potential scandal if it turns out that Environment Canada was aware of the project prior to its execution and did nothing to stop it.
Ocean iron fertilization is highly controversial. It means stimulating plankton blooms in open water, which then seize carbon from the atmosphere and, on sinking to the bottom of the ocean, store it away.
So far, such experiments have been conducted in universities only and their results have been mixed.
Kent said that while the company's representatives met with Environment Canada officers, no permits were issued.
Ken Denman, an oceanographer with the University of Victoria told The Star that it is too early to tell what kind of impact the iron dump will have on the area's maritime ecosystem, but "100 tons of iron sulphate are sure to have profound implications."