Canada's pristine western coastline could be endangered by a plan to build a new oil pipeline from Alberta to the coast in order to export oil overseas, say environmental activists and native people who rely on these waters.
Oil company Enbridge plans to link the oil sands of Athabasca, in central Alberta, to the port town of Kitimat in British Columbia, with a new pipeline that would carry 525,000 barrels of oil to the coast per day.
There's just one problem: the pipeline would pass through watersheds important to Canada's commercial fishing industry and brush past Coastal First Nations lands and the Great Bear Rainforest, a protected coastal area filled with red cedars, spruce, and the elusive all-white "spirit bear."
While the Northern Gateway pipeline itself wouldn't pass through the 4.4-million-acre (1.8-million-hectare) Great Bear Rainforest, activists say it's a little too close for comfort. The International League of Conservation Photographers recently performed a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) in the area, sending a dozen photographers to the rain forest to document the ecosystem they believe is at risk. A pipeline means more tankers, and because the Kitimat terminal is separated from the open ocean by more than one hundred miles of channels and fjords, the photographers argue that a tanker spill would imperil the local environment. "These are highly treacherous waters, with tremendous currents," said Cristina Mittermeier, ILCP president.
(Related: Oil reserves put Canada's Great Bear Rainforest under the lens)
The danger is not just to plants and wildlife: The lifestyle of the First Nations people living in and around the rain forest, such as these Gitga'at fishermen gathering crab in a photo from the Great Bear RAVE, would be at risk. "One major oil spill on the coast of British Columbia would wipe us out," Coastal First Nations director Gerald Amos said in a statement.