Energy East project: TransCanada listens to beluga scientists
TransCanada recently announced that they decided not to go ahead with the building of a marine terminal at Cacouna as part of the Energy East pipeline project. This project’s objective is to transport oil extracted from the oil sands in Alberta to the eastern seaboard. Two marine terminals were proposed in the initial plan: one in New Brunswick and one in Cacouna in the province of Quebec. Environmental groups and experts on St. Lawrence beluga ecology and health, including Stéphane Lair (regional director of the CWHC – Quebec), were firmly opposed to this plan since the site for the proposed port was located in an area of importance for this population of endangered whales.
Because females with young calves are commonly observed around Cacouna, this area, often referred as a “beluga nursery”, is believed to be of great importance for the future of this population. Consequently, scientists were concerned with the level of disturbance that maritime traffic associated with this oil port would have generated in this sensitive ecosystem. The increase in occurrence of mortalities of new born calves and of females during or shortly after parturition suggests that this population is facing some reproduction-associated challenges. Even if the actual cause of this is still uncertain, beluga scientists believe that any additional stress could be fatal for the preservation of this weakened population. Following a peer-reviewed process on the state of knowledge, the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat published a Science Advisory Report on the Status of the St. Lawrence beluga in March 2014. This report lead to the reassignment of the St. Lawrence beluga from “threatened” to “endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. According to TransCanada, this reclassification of the beluga as an endangered population was the reason behind the decision of not going ahead with the Cacouna port as originally planned. It can, however, be suggested that the opposition from the scientific community also had a role to play in this decision.
This outcome is a good example of a situation where science can have a direct impact on wildlife health and conservation.
For more information on this story, see the following websites:
Statement from TransCanada: http://www.energyeastpipeline.com/keeping-our-promise-why-moving-away-from-cacouna-is-the-right-thing-to-do/
World Wildlife Fund site: http://blog.wwf.ca/blog/2014/12/05/endangered-st-lawrence-belugas-end-oil-port-project/
Submitted by Stéphane Lair, CWHC Quebec