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Delta throwback: Fears waterfowl 'could be eliminated' from Roberts Bank

Concerns about Delta port development go back over 50 years
westshore terminals in delta 1970
Dr. Newman and Dr. John Bandy in 1969 warned that any development at Roberts Bank should be planned in a way that would minimize the loss of birds.

Let’s head back to February 1969 pages of the Delta Optimist where an article warned how Roberts Bank faced grave danger from pollution and development.

“Roberts Bank is potentially the most destructive piece of man’s civilization ever created in British Columbia,” said Murray Newman, director of the Vancouver Public Aquarium.

Dr. Newman and Dr. John Bandy, who was with the provincial fish and wildlife branch, said thousands of wild birds would die if anti-pollution safeguards weren’t built into the new Roberts Bank Superport at the time.

Both were directors of the B.C. Waterfowl Society, which sponsored the Westham Island Waterfowl Refuge.

Dr. Newman warned that Roberts Bank lies in the path of Canada’s greatest winter flyway, a route of travel for migratory birds.

The flyway depends on Roberts Bank, Sturgeon Bank and Boundary Bay, as about 70 per cent of the waterfowl which remain in Canada through the winter stay in those areas.

Dr. Newman said he felt development at Roberts Bank was inevitable, but it would be more dangerous as it progresses.

“If just one ship pumps its bilge into the ocean, most of the birds in the immediate area would be killed,” he said.

“In fact, it’s quite possible that waterfowl could be eliminated from the area if Roberts Bank goes ahead without safeguards,” he stressed.

Dr. Bandy said if oil was dumped into the ocean around Roberts Bank, thousands of birds including snow geese, which arrive from Russia, would be eliminated.

He added Canada has an obligation under the migratory birds treaty, which was a federal government agreement with the United States and Mexico, to conserve waterfowl.

Dr. Bandy said if it is necessary to destroy a waterfowl habitat as important as Roberts Bank, alternative sanctuaries must be developed.

Fast forward to today and opponents of the current proposed port expansion plans at Roberts Bank are warning of devastating consequences to migratory birds.

Having sent a recent e-petition to the federal government, Against Port Expansion (APE) notes, “Every year, thousands of waterfowl and waders stop to rest and refuel on their spring migration, feasting on crustaceans, molluscs and ‘biofilm’ – slimy sheets of microbes that are found on the vast mudflats of the Fraser River Delta. Most of the global population of Western Sandpipers Calidris mauri stop here during spring migration. The fatty acids found in biofilm are a vital nutrient source for this tiny wader, giving it the energy to journey another 3,000 kilometres and start breeding. It’s safe to say that without the Fraser River Delta, the entire species could be at risk.”

Ensuring a number of mitigation and monitoring measures would be undertaken, the Port of Vancouver last summer noted, “Early in the planning stages of the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project, we kicked off a comprehensive environmental study program to better understand the relationship of biofilm to the western sandpiper, and minimize any potential environmental effects of the project.”