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Scientists Call on Canada to Reject Vancouver's Box Terminal Expansion

roberts bank 2
Roberts Bank Terminal 2, left, would expand the existing container terminal site on reclaimed land (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

Published Feb 14, 2022 4:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

A group of 12 scientists has asked Canada's federal government to reject a plan to expand the Port of Vancouver's Roberts Bank Terminal, citing research that suggests the new facility would harm salmon and killer whales. 

In early 2020, a federal review panel determined that the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 expansion project would have "significant adverse and cumulative effects to populations of Fraser Chinook salmon" because its location would disrupt salmon out-migration in the Fraser Estuary. The estuary is a feeding ground and migration path for some of Canada's largest salmon runs. The panel also found that the increase in shipping activity to and from the terminal would worsen the existing underwater noise levels in the Salish Sea, with "significant adverse effects on endangered Southern Resident killer whales."

The previous environment minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, placed the expansion project on hold until the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority provided more information about the terminal's environmental impact, along with any possible mitigation measures. At present, according to the petitioners, there are no known methods of offsetting the effects of the terminal's construction on the affected species. 

The proposed expansion would widen a causeway across the width of the Fraser Estuary and add another 270 acres to the existing Roberts Bank terminal. This would reduce the size of the estuary by infilling intertidal zone areas used by juvenile salmon for migration. In addition, ship traffic would increase in the region by about 25 percent, raising the probability of whale strikes and increasing underwater noise levels, which interfere with orcas' navigation and feeding. 

"If the recovery of Canada’s endangered and iconic wildlife is a priority for the government of Canada, as stated, then it must reject the proposed Terminal 2 project," wrote the 12 scientists. "We urge the government to err on the side of caution when considering an approval that lacks scientific evidence to support it."

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has previously said that Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is of "paramount value to Canada’s trade." It has acknowledged the federal review panel's findings, and it emphasizes its region-wide harm reduction projects, like its "Echo Program" for rewarding slow-steaming ships.