With major LNG projects proposed in Kitimat, such as the PNW LNG project, as well as the Kitimat LNG export facility for third party pipelines, the Gitga’at Nation is understandably concerned about the impacts LNG carriers could have on the environment and how the Carriers will operate in the nearby waterway. While no final investment decisions have been made thus far, the Gitga’at are being proactive and taking actions to help mitigate the potential increase in vessel traffic.
Gitga’at is located at the head of Douglas Channel – a key shipping route to the Port of Kitimat. The self-reliant community maintains a stable economy built on the pillars of traditional harvesting of various country foods, commercial fishing, sustainable resource development, and ecotourism.
Recently, the Gitga’at reached an LNG Benefits Agreement with the Province that outlined (among other things) Gitga’at’s interest in locating a Marine Emergency Response and Research Facility (MERFF) in their community. The proposal is a culmination of the many years of work that the Gitga’at have undertaken in marine emergency response and marine research. Over the last decade, Gitga’at has positioned itself as a leader in these areas. The Nation has a well-trained emergency response team and actively monitors its traditional territory for environmental impacts.
The emergency response team is keen to see the new technologies in ship navigation implemented in their area. For example, the new Automatic Identification System (AIS) radar based systems allow for greater awareness of vessel traffic and the ability to be proactive if a vessel needs assistance.
Gitga’at currently relies on VHF, a radio monitoring system that is reactive, so the Nation only becomes aware of an emergency if a call comes in on the radio. Roger Sterritt, Manager, Gitga’at Emergency Response Team, notes: “Right now all we can do is monitor the VHF radio or wait for a call from the Canadian Coast Guard, and if someone is in trouble the only way we will know is if they call for help.” With the new technology, the Gitga’at would be able to monitor vessel traffic. Eddie Robinson, Director of Gitga’at Emergency Response Team emphasizes that if they had AIS, it would allow the Gitga’at to take readings of vessels’ headings, so the exact location of vessels could be pinpointed. They could also monitor the ship, offer advice on local waters or direct vessels to areas of safe refuge.
The Gitga’at also have an active environmental monitoring and marine mammal research program underway. Gitga’at monitor many aspects of their territory and look at the conditions of important resources such as clam beds and salmon. The First Nation also has a whale monitoring program; they look at the seasonal movements of the whales and the kinds of behaviours they undertake in relation to vessel traffic and noise. In the near future, Gitga’at, along with research partners will be improving their hydrophone (underwater microphone) network to record levels of background noise in their territory. The idea is to establish a baseline for monitoring the whales’ behaviour to see if any increased vessel traffic and noise could be impacting their health. Chris Picard, Science Director, Gitga’at Lands and Marine Resources notes that the proposed MERFF facility could be a useful hub for enhanced monitoring of the territory and allow for more sophisticated technologies.
If the Marine Emergency Response and Research Facility were to go ahead it would bring together many existing Gitga’at programs and implement new technologies that are needed to improve marine safety and marine research. The project also represents an opportunity to build even further capabilities within the community and provide the Gitga’at with additional training and knowledge. Although the Marine Emergency Response and Research Facility is still in its early stages, Gitga’at expects to continue to develop partnerships over time, moving the project forward to bring these needed new technologies to their community and surrounding area.
Photo Credit: Gitga’at Nation Coast Funds