CTV Investigates-Part 2 of 3 of the series"Pipedreams"

Reporting from CTV BC News at Six by Jim Beatty

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Watch Part Two: Pipedreams: Saving the World with Photographs

Jim Beatty reports on the second of a three part series on the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.

The fight against a proposed oil pipeline through B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest is employing an unlikely weapon: the camera.

Some of the world's greatest nature photographers touched down in B.C. with a political agenda -- they want the world to see the beauty of B.C.'s north coast and pressure Canada to protect it.

"There's large sea stars, colonies of Steller sea lions, humpback whales, orcas -- this place is just bursting at the seams with life. It's one of the richest systems on this planet," South African photographer Thomas Peschak told CTV News.

"Photographs are really one of the most powerful conservation tools that we've got.... This is a world treasure -- a world heritage treasure -- and we are hoping the photographs we are going to take are going to help protect this place in perpetuity."

Activists and First Nations groups believe the unique ecosystem is under threat from a $5.5-billion pipeline proposed by the oil giant Enbridge, and the photographers say they wanted to pitch in to get the message out.

"It's like a SWAT team of photographers who descend on an area that needs media attention," Cristina Mittermeier said.

Activists worry that the risk of an oil spill in the area could be catastrophic.

The proposed route for the pipeline crosses hundreds of waterways on its way from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat on the coast. From there, it would be shipped on super-tankers to China.

"People around the world are concerned about introducing ‘Big Oil' to the west coast of Canada," photographer Ian McAllister said.

"We shouldn't put Canada's Pacific coast at risk, just to feed more cars with our dirty oil in Shanghai. That just doesn't make sense."

But Enbridge argues that the pipeline would help feed an oil-thirsty world while creating jobs and economic wealth at home in B.C.

"Over the life of the project, Canada will see an increase of $270 billion in gross domestic product. Just in terms of industry, that's huge," project president John Carruthers said.

The cost of the photography project is minimal. The photographers donate their time, volunteers provide accommodation and flights are covered by the American charity International League of Conservation Photographers.

Victoria photographer Paul Nicklen plans to spend months in the area.

"I think collectively we can really make a difference, and it's really exciting to be part of something where we can say at the end of the day we did something better for the environment, finally the environment won something and the environment got a voice," he said.

The fight against the project has become an international cause, and the photographers who visited the area hailed from as far away as Spain, Germany and Mexico.

It's not a new strategy. In the 1990s, environmentalists fought for forestry reforms by putting B.C.'s logging practices in the international spotlight.

Mittermeier said she's hoping for the same kind of success in the Great Bear Rainforest.

"The images that are made here will travel as an exhibit that will be shown to legislators and to decision-makers and to funders and hopefully engage them in a conversation about what's going on here."

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jim Beatty. Watch CTV News at Six on Thursday for the third and final part of our series, Pipe Dreams: Environment vs. economy

All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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