Port of Vancouver's Terminal 2— a tidal wave headed for a volatile ecosystem


A tidal wave–size threat is bearing down on the Salish Sea and its iconic resident killer whales, and the government is responding with a cocktail umbrella.

On the coast of the Salish Sea from spring to summer you might bear witness to migrating salmon returning home, or the herring spawn that attracts birds from great blue herons to bald eagles, or the return of the southern resident killer whales. These phenomenal events invoke the feeling of abundance and richness, but this incredible wildlife activity is just a shade of what it once was.

Unfortunately, species integral to the Salish Sea are headed for extinction. Meanwhile the federal government is considering the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project, proposed by the Port of Vancouver, which will put more stress on at-risk species at a time when rapid ecosystem repair is what’s needed.

Terminal 2 is a proposed expansion of the container shipping terminal located on the coast of the Salish Sea near Tsawwassen and will increase capacity for container goods like household products, furniture and clothing. This project is not giving us access to something we don’t already have, it’s just feeding our harmful consumer habitats so we can get more things, faster. 

This year only seven chinook salmon have been recorded by the Albion test fishery, when there should be hundreds. The chinook salmon, an integral part of a healthy Salish Sea and the main food source for southern resident whales, are disappearing.

The southern residents are down to 73 today from 76 last year. That’s a four percent population decline in less than 12 months. On that track, the whales will be gone in 25 years. Another species headed for extinction.

How is the government responding to the degrading health of the Salish Sea? By reaching for the low-hanging fruit, the most politically easy courses of action. 

The federal government is asking vessel operators to turn off echo sounders when not needed to protect whales. But it approved the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX), which will increase noise to levels that will greatly harm southern residents.

It's restricting recreational fishing of chinook, but allowing the commercial harvest of herring, chinook’s main food source. And it's asking boats to voluntarily slow down, yet is considering approval of Terminal 2, which would double the number or the size of vessels in southern resident habitat.

The government puts the burden on a select few stakeholders while giving the biggest and most harmful industries and corporations a free pass. 

Terminal 2 must not get a free pass to destroy life in the Salish Sea. The federal review panel itself has admitted the project will cause significant harm to endangered southern residents, wetlands, chinook, barn owls, and Dungeness crab. 

The train of destruction doesn’t end there. According to the panel, there will be harmful impacts to the current use of lands and resources for the Tsawwassen First Nation, Musqueam Indian Band, Pacheedaht First Nation, and Ditidaht First Nation.

The panel also stated that the cultural heritage for Tsawwassen First Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation will be harmed and deemed exposure to nitrogen dioxide and other respiratory irritants a public health risk. 

The federal review panel created a report outlining recommendations that should be followed if Terminal 2 goes ahead. Yet the majority of the recommendations don’t limit harmful activity or give consequences for harmful operations. Instead, many of the recommendations include the word “monitor”. I’ve grown to dislike that word.

Monitoring impacts to the ecosystem is not an effective way to stop damage to it. The panel report suggests things like monitor biofilm impacts, monitor impacts to red and blue listed species, monitor crab habitat. But monitoring harm does not in any way reduce harm.

If Terminal 2 gets built and the corporation follows the recommendations, the negative impacts from the project will not be avoided—they’ll just be well monitored.

Many projects have crossed the moral, environmental, and ethical line of acceptable harm. The federal government’s approval of Terminal 2 will give evidence it doesn’t care about saving species, it just cares about the optics of saving them.

The threat that is Terminal 2 must be stopped and instead we must begin to repair the life-giving ecosystem that is the Salish Sea. 

This article about the Port of Vancouver's Terminal 2— a tidal wave headed for a volatile ecosystem by Charlotte Dawe, conservation and policy manager with the Wilderness Committee, originally appeared in the Georgia Straight on July 29, 2020. 

Watch: Industry and environmental experts see problems with Port of Vancouver's Roberts Bank Terminal 2