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Notre Diversité Risquée

 

Our Bounty of
Biodiversity at Risk


|Monique Breau,
Save Our Seas Campaign,
Project Assistant
October 1998

"The sea folds away from you like a mystery. You can look and look at it and mystery never leaves it." Carl Sandburg

a.gif (364 bytes)s part of our International Year of the Oceans work, the Conservation Council’s (CCNB) Save Our Seas Campaign will be helping to provide a comprehensive view of the state of our coasts on the Acadian and north shores of New Brunswick. Most of CCNB's work has focused on the Bay of Fundy and through it we have gained a good understanding of the stress being put on this unique marine ecosystem. But this is only part of the story. New Brunswick's other coasts, the Acadian and north shore, have had very little public attention paid to it. Yet the problems there are every bit as pressing. These shores include the Bay of Chaleur, Bathurst Harbour, Miramichi Bay and the Northumberland Strait, all of which are coastal areas in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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(photo:Conservation Council of N.B.)

What makes this coast special to me is its gently sloping beaches and sand dunes, and of course the warm water. The shorebirds scattered on the beaches at low tide are an absolutely beautiful sight. I never cease to be amazed when I see a Great Blue Heron. A friend once saw a Bald Eagle in Shediac, my home town; I was never so lucky to see one myself. Unlike a lot of places along the coast, people still go in search of mussels and clams on the beaches of Shediac Island. There is always the thrill of who can find the biggest clam or who can get the most. How long will we be able to enjoy this tradition?

Some of the Problems

The mining industry is significant source of pollution. The Brunswick Mining and Smelting No.12 lead-zinc mine near Little River located about 21 Km south-west of Bathurst has had problems with highly acidic heavy metal contaminated wastewater. Little River flows directly in the Bathurst harbour. Once in the river, these metals cause chemical reactions in the marine environment producing sulphuric acid which is dangerous to fish and benthic organisms (snails, clams, worms, etc.). Treatment ponds have been built with bacteria which feed on the contaminants in the waste water. After the termination of a mine, contaminants may persist in the environment for years to follow.

A large source of pollution into the Bay of Chaleur has been the Belledune Lead Smelter and fertilizer plant located in Belledune, northwest of Bathurst. It is very difficult to measure the effects of this type of pollution on living organisms. Thus, there is no significant evidence on the long term effects of pollution from this industry has had on humans. Waste water from this industry contains toxic heavy metals such as cadmium which has caused past closures of the lobster fishery in Belledune Harbour. The smelter's air emissions contain sulphur dioxide, CEPA-toxic and carcinogenic lead and cadmium. Efforts have been made to reduce contaminant content in emissions. Metal contaminated waste and faulty piping in the smelter recycling process water system were the cause of contamination. Their pipes were replaced in 1989. As for the air emissions containing sulphur dioxide, lead and cadmium, these are collected in bag-houses (filtering units) where they get recycled. In addition, there is an acid plant and scrubbers which help control air emissions. However, the soil and vegetation around the plant where metals have accumulated are still heavily contaminated.

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(photo:Huntsman Marine Science Centre)

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Benthic Life
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A third source of marine pollution on the north shore is the CIL Limited Chlor Alkali plant in Dalhousie. This industry produces chlorine and caustic soda used by the pulp and paper companies. The process entails passing a brine solution over mercury cells. Between 1976 and 1987, 5,327 Kg of mercury was discharged through effluent (complex liquid waste material which is a by-product of human activity which may be discharged into the environment) , air emissions, impounded solids and products into the Bay of Chaleur. Mercury is a highly toxic substance that can damage the central nervous system in infants and adults, and has been proven to accumulate in our biota such as fish, shellfish, birds etc. However, levels decreased between 1973 and 1987 when government and industry decided for action. Brine sludge containing mercury from the Chlor Alkali industry are either de-watered (to remove contaminants), buried in secure landfills or treated and discharged in a sewer. Nevertheless, significant amounts of mercury are still escaping into our environment from this industry.

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(bitmap:Conservation Council of N.B.)

The single largest source of marine pollution in this region is the huge pulp and paper industry. The east coast mills are Tembec (Atholville), Bowater (Dalhousie), Stone Consolidated Inc. (Bathurst) and REPAP (Miramichi). The stress on the environment comes in the form of liquid effluents, air emissions, and contaminated solid wastes. These degrade our marine environment be decreasing water quality, the state of aquatic habitat and inshore waters. These also affect fish populations causing oxygen deficiencies which in turn changes their behaviour, growth, swimming, respiration, fecundity, disease resistance, and feeding. The deposition of these components in the environment results in smothering of the benthic environment and disturbing invertebrate organisms (sea urchins, snails, scallops, worms, etc.). This may also entail the disturbance of fish habitat (spawning and feeding grounds). Where chlorine is used in the bleaching process bio-accumulation of dioxins and furans in living organisms is a concern. This may even cause reproductive failure, mutation and other genetic changes. In regards to health, respiratory problems may evolve due to compounds in air.

Through federal fisheries regulation, progress has been made in reducing pollution levels of suspended solids, lethal effluent, dioxins and furans (toxic compounds), and air emissions from the pulp and paper industry. There is still much room for improvement. NB is surrounded by water on two sides, we all feel the effects of marine pollution. In the future, we must be exceedingly critical of get dumped into our waters.

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CCNB's Initiatives

CCNB's report on New Brunswick's Acadian and north shores will describe these issues and others in more detail and attempt to place them in the context of the communities that depend on the marine environment economically and culturally. We will outline the actions being taken to address these issues, and suggest what is still left to be done to ensure the future health and sustainability of this beautiful, bountiful coastal waters of our Acadian and north shores. Through major funding provided by the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund, this report is expected to be published in March 1999.


References:

Eaton Peter B., Alan G. Gray, Peter W. Johnson and Eric Hundert.1994. State of the Environment in the Atlantic Region. Environment Canada Atlantic Region.

White, Louise and Frank Jones. 1997. Marine Environmental Assessment of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fisheries and Oceans Canada.