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British Columbia Sea Shepherd’s Watson vows to stop B.C. ocean fertilization plan

Canadian animal rights and environmental activist Paul Watson in the harbour of La Ciotat, southern France, in May 2011.

Patrick Gherdoussi/AP/The Canadian Press

Russ George, the architect of a controversial ocean fertilization project off Haida Gwaii, has come under attack from the federal government, the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization – and now Paul Watson has piled on.

It's not the first time the two self-styled crusaders have clashed. Mr. Watson, who is reportedly at sea leading his organization's latest campaign against Japanese whalers, says Mr. George is an ocean "polluter" the Sea Shepherd Society has long been fighting.

"We stopped him in the Galapagos in 2007. We stopped him in Bermuda, Madeira and the Canary Islands in 2008. We helped drive him into bankruptcy in 2009. Now he's back," wrote Mr. Watson in a recent commentary distributed by Sea Shepherd.

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Mr. Watson hasn't been seen in public since July when he skipped bail in Germany, where he was facing possible extradition for charges related to an alleged incident with a shark finning vessel off Costa Rica in 2002. He has dismissed the charges as politically motivated, and has said he won't come back to land to deal with the issue until the end of Sea Shepherd's campaign to stop Japanese whalers in the Pacific.

The first of Sea Shepherd's four ships left Australia earlier this week to seek out Japanese whalers, and Mr. Watson has said he is going to join the vessels at some point. In a recent interview, he would say only he was at sea and was looking forward to the anti-whaling campaign, which is called Zero Tolerance because the goal is to stop the Japanese from taking any whales.

Mr. Watson, who has made a career of circling the globe fighting for ocean causes, said Mr. George came to his attention in 2007 when he announced plans to fertilize a large tract of ocean off the Galapagos Islands. Mr. Watson said Sea Shepherd thwarted those plans and then intercepted Mr. George again in the Atlantic.

"In 2008 we confronted his 'research' vessel in Bermuda and forced George onto Madiera," Mr. Watson wrote. "We met him there and his plans to pollute the waters in the Atlantic were ended."

Mr. Watson said Mr. George's original plan had been to sell carbon offset credits, which he hoped to earn by triggering a plankton bloom that would absorb carbon dioxide.

Mr. George has said the Haida Gwaii experiment, in which he dumped more than 100 tonnes of iron into the ocean, was meant to stimulate a plankton bloom in order to feed salmon and demonstrate how to combat global warming. But representatives of the Old Massett Village Council, which helped fund the project with $2.5-million, have said they hoped to earn back their investment by selling carbon offset credits.

Mr. Watson said that fertilizing the ocean to stimulate plankton blooms is a potentially risky experiment, and that Mr. George acted despite international agreements restricting such large-scale ocean fertilization experiments. He said Mr. George "needs to be stopped" and promised Sea Shepherd will do just that.

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"Now that he has raised his head again, Sea Shepherd will be watching him and we will interfere with future plans to dump iron dust into the marine environment," Mr. Watson wrote.

Last week the International Maritime Organization expressed "grave concern" about the Haida Gwaii experiment, saying ocean fertilization "has the potential to have widespread, long-lasting, and severe impacts on the marine environment, with implications for human health."

The federal government has said the project is under investigation by Environment Canada, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO has also expressed concerns about the experiment.

Mr. George did not respond to e-mails asking for comment on Mr. Watson's article, and he twice hung up when reached by phone recently.

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