Endangered wildlife found at diesel fuel spill site near Bella Bella
Ten days after a tug ran aground leaking fuel into Heiltsuk First Nation water near Bella Bella, underwater images showed endangered wildlife in the region.
Dive footage from Saturday revealed endangered abalone in the fuel spill area. The Heiltsuk have been working to help recover this species which is protected from harvesting along the entire coast of British Columbia. Divers also filmed schools of juvenile herring around the sunken Nathan E. Stewart tug.
An outer boom put in place to contain the spill broke free on Friday causing oil to spread and cleanup crews were stalled by bad weather for the fourth consecutive day. On Sunday afternoon the secondary boom was repaired.
By Saturday, salvage crews had recovered more than 40 per cent of the 200,000 liters of fuel estimated to be in the vessel, but the damage has been done.
Heiltsuk Aquatics Manager Mike Reid said there is increasing concern for the marine life in Gale Passage, a highly sensitive ecological and marine resource area. A crucial herring spawning area is at the south end of the passage.
“In the first week of the spill, we had the largest tides of the month at 17.4 feet,” he said in a release. “Even without bad weather, the speed of tides rushing through the spill site are likely to flush diesel into the area.”
The local clam fishery has been shut down and BC NDP leader John Horgan criticized the spill response.
“It was tragic to see the sheen of diesel on the water,” Horgan said, adding. "You couldn't have picked a worse place to drop this boat into the bottom of the ocean."
Kirby Offshore Marine, the company that owns the tugboat, has apologized to the Heiltsuk First Nation and thanked the agencies involved in the cleanup.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, diesel is one of the most toxic types of oil for marine creatures.
Depending on the weather conditions, 1500 feet of kepner boom will be placed around the primary and secondary containment boom for additional protection.