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Letter: Orcas’ Future in Howe Sound

'The exhilaration of witnessing these majestic and iconic creatures in my local waters spurred my curiosity about the whale populations in Howe Sound and the potential impacts of the proposed Woodfibre LNG facility and FortisBC pipeline.'

Very few would argue that Sea to Sky locals are not privileged to live in such as beautiful and bountiful part of the world. Squamish’s wildness on land, in the river, and the ocean is remarkable when you think of its proximity to a metropolitan city.  How lucky are we?!

This past long weekend, I had the extraordinary opportunity to witness my first orcas in Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound. A pod of four to six, including two calves, swam and played in the waters for several hours. They navigated back and forth between the proposed WoodfibreLNG site and south of the Squamish spit.

The exhilaration of witnessing these majestic and iconic creatures in my local waters spurred my curiosity about the whale populations in Howe Sound and the potential impacts of the proposed Woodfibre LNG facility and FortisBC pipeline.

I was thrilled to read that since 2007, there has been an upward trend in orca and humpback whale sightings in Howe Sound. This coincided with the establishment of the Britannia Mine’s Water Treatment Plant in October 2005 and the closure of the Woodfibre Pulp Mill in March 2006. These paired with the habitat restoration initiatives that occurred in Howe Sound, likely enhanced forage fish populations like herring and northern anchovy, as well as the seal population, which, in turn, increased feeding opportunities for the humpback whales and orcas.

Further reading made me realize that marine vessel traffic in Howe Sound averaged 1,157 vessels annually between 2014-2016. Such vessels included cargo ships, tankers, tugboats, and cruise ships. Assuming these numbers have increased since 2016, I cannot help wondering how the additional 48 LNG tankers (annually) that are 300 meters long and 43 meters wide will impact the orcas and wildlife of Howe Sound.

Reading more about the WoodfiberLNG project deepened my concern with the prospect of three new sources of [treated] wastewater entering Howe Sound—two at the WoodfibreLNG site (one for LNG construction and one for the FortisBC pipeline) and one in the Squamish River for the BC Rail site. 

Could these developments become the tipping point where Howe Sound is once-again thriving ecosystem takes a downward turn? 

Will Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC play a pivotal role in determining the fate of the orcas and all other species in Howe Sound? These questions underscore the delicate balance between economic progress and environmental stewardship.

This is a moment to think carefully and insist that our government and regulators take action to protect the well-being of orcas so that they can thrive, and future generations can experience the joy of seeing them, as I did.

“Our decisions today sculpt the landscape of tomorrow; the choices we make for our planet now shape the world we’ll call home in the future,” by unknown.

Luke Gatien

Brackendale

The Squamish Chief welcomes letters to the editor of up to 400 words. Letters should be exclusive to this publication and are meant to respond to a local story in The Squamish Chief or raise an issue happening in town. Please include your name, neighbourhood and daytime phone number. The deadline is 5 p.m. Monday to be considered for Thursday’s edition. Full names and neighbourhood will be published with the letter. The publisher reserves the right to refuse and edit letters for length and clarity or to address legal concerns. Email letters to: editor@squamishchief.com.




 

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