Eco-tourism under threat, owners fear, in proposed Northern Gateway pipeline tanker corridor

Popular BC tourism activities like whale watching would suffer greatly in the event of an oil spill. Photo by Odenosuke

The tourism industry relies on BC’s “super, natural” landscape to attract visitors, so they have a particular interest in protecting the province’s pristine wilderness.

Evan Loveless, Executive Director of the BC Wilderness Tourism Association (WTA), stated last summer that his industry and the WTA’s individual members and operators are concerned about the pipeline. “The biggest concern is the threat of a spill on the coast...we think that a spill is inevitable if there’s that much tanker traffic going down Douglas Channel, and a spill would have irreparable damage in our industry,” he said.

According to the WTA, clients spend an average of $1.5 billion a year on nature-based tourism in British Columbia. There are over 2,200 businesses operating in both rural and urban settings, and all of these businesses rely on maintaining the health of the province’s wild spaces.“One of the biggest attractions certainly on the coast for our operators is wildlife viewing,” said Loveless, noting the huge market for marine tours and things like bear and whale watching.

If a spill were to occur, he explained, it would have drastic effects all the way up the food chain. If there’s no fish for the bigger animals to eat, there won’t be much for visitors to see. "If those experiences are damaged, then the whole industry is impacted —whether it’s sport fishing or wildlife viewing, or scuba diving or just the aspect of the cruising charters transecting the coast,” said Loveless. Actual physical impacts to the marine environment would impact the actual tourism experiences. Even more, it might impact BC’s reputation for beauty. That would impact how people imagine BC. “An oil spill will affect the branding and a reputation of the BC coast,” Loveless said, “and that’s going to deter tourists coming to BC”

Tourists who come for a wilderness adventure on the coast are also usually spending time in urban centres like Vancouver or Victoria. "BC’s tourism industry, is based on ‘Super, Natural BC’ – it’s based on nature. If people aren’t coming for those experiences, they’re also not coming to Vancouver or Victoria. It would ripple through the whole industry.”

Michael Uehara, President of the coastal resort King Pacific Lodge, echoed Loveless’ concerns about the pipeline. King Pacific Lodge is located on Princess Royal Island, a small and isolated island off the north BC coast near Prince Rupert and Hartley Bay. Accessible only by air or boat, it has essentially no human population apart from the resort. “The pipeline and tankers will have quite a negative impact on tourism, particularly in our area,” said Uehara. “Given our ties to Hartley Bay, and given that we are in the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the ecological jewels of Canada, we’re opposed to the pipeline and the resulting tankers.”

According to Uehara, King Pacific Lodge appeals to people interested in eco-tourism. “Our experience is about nature in a state that we have a unique opportunity to offer,” he said. “That unique opportunity would be gone with the advent of the pipeline and resulting tankers, because it’s incompatible to talk about nature in the way we do and have oil tankers plying the waters, the very same waters we’re in. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The King Pacific Lodge has played a significant role in protecting sensitive areas of the Great Bear Rainforest. Uehara sees this commitment to the environment as the key to the Lodge’s success since people seeking a “wild” experience make up the bulk of their clientele. Promoting the environment, conservation and First Nations culture isn’t optional for his business. “Those values are the core of what we present.”

If an oil spill like the Exxon Valdez happened on the BC coast, he says there’s little chance his resort would recover. “We would have to close down. I don’t see how you’d compensate for that in any way,” said Uehara.

Enbridge makes no reference to tourism-related impacts in the company’s online Northern Gateway materials. It did not respond to requests for comment.

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