Millennium Institute of Oceanography shows concern over possible iron fertilization project on the Chilean coast

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On Monday, April 3, an article was published in El Mercurio entitled "Scientific experiment: Sowing the sea could help increase the amount of fish." This is the proposal of the Canadian company Oceaneos on fertilizing the coast of Chile and Peru with iron, with the objective to increase fish productivity. Oceaneos carries out a campaign to convince Chile about the productive business that could be this proposal, taking for it some results on experiments done by the international scientific community.

The Millennium Institute of Oceanography (IMO), based on his group of researchers and experts in the area, considers that iron is indeed a fundamental element for phytoplankton, it forms part of the base food supply chain for the fish. However, according to research conducted over the last 25 years, they concluded that in some parts of the ocean exist a deficiencies in this element. In some particular areas, the addition of iron increases the amount of phytoplankton.

Incidentally, IMO researchers point out that: "scientific results up this date do not allow discarding or stimulate the possibility of artificially fertilizing the ocean with eco-engineering objectives, such as mitigating the increase in atmospheric CO2 or increasing the fishery. However, the international consensus is that artificial fertilization of the ocean should be banned for the time being.

On this initiative, the scientists emphasize in the international happening. "Parts of the London Convention on Waste Disposal of 1972, an international convention in which Chile participates, reiterated in 2012 that the only exception for this type of prohibition are experiments with purely scientific purposes, necessary to achieve better scientific knowledge about the effects of ocean fertilization on a commercial scale" assert from the IMO.

Among the main risks that can be achieved by marine fertilization is the increase in abundance of a harmful microalgae, the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia, which produces the neurotoxin domoic acid. In addition, after algal bloom, in response to the artificial addition of iron, the biomass could decompose in the sub-surface waters, critically lowering the oxygen level and negatively affecting the crustacean and mollusc fish.

The idea of Oceaneos on fertilizing the coast of Chile and Peru, it should be noted that the coastal waters already have enough iron. "This type of experimentation will end up being just a useless waste of our funds," emphasize from IMO. In addition, it should be added that Chile already has problems with the flowering of toxic algae and sub-surface waters naturally low in oxygen. As a result had caused rods when its movements catch and suffocate fish and invertebrates. Also, it could generate risks in areas related to tourism, aquaculture, artisanal fishing and also for human life.

Finally, it is important to highlight what happened in 2012 with the private company Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC). With the aim of stimulating salmon production, they decided to add iron to the coasts of the island of Haida tribe. On that occasion, the necessary permits were not finalized, reason why there is currently a judicial investigation in Canada.

Although Oceaneos denies having direct links to HSRC, in 2016 its director was Jason MacNamee, who was the director of HSRC at the time when they did the illegal fertilization in 2012.

Oceaneos only proposes an experimental stage - of indeterminate characteristics - it is worrisome that a for-profit foreign company, but without intimate knowledge of local conditions and needs, is not properly prepared to assess the risks to life in the ocean, and the Human health, nor either to adequately monitor the actual effects of this fertilization.


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Universidad de ConcepciónPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileMinisterio de Economía, Fomento y TurismoIniciativa Científica Milenio
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