Disposal at sea: environmental monitoring of disposal sites

Conducting monitoring studies

The Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) Disposal at Sea Program conducts monitoring studies of the environmental conditions at representative disposal sites each year.

Monitoring can include measuring changes to the following:

  • seabed
  • chemicals within the seabed
  • plants and animals that live on or in the seabed.

Environmental monitoring studies can look at:

  • impacts
  • trends
  • movement
  • compliance
  • cumulative effects
  • long term sustainability of site use.

This information is used both for managing the specific disposal site, and feeds back into the decision-making and information requirements for permit applications.

Role of monitoring

Disposal site monitoring allows permittees continued access to suitable disposal sites by helping to ensure that the permit conditions are met, and conditions were adequate to protect the marine environment and human health. It verifies that assumptions made during the permit review and site selection process were correct, and allows the government to continually review the overall adequacy of controls. Information compiled nationally and regionally over time provides the basis to assess whether the disposal at sea regulatory controls, guidelines and permit conditions are adequate to protect the marine environment and human health.

Experience gained with monitoring may also point to the need for research to develop better monitoring tools, or to refine the monitoring program, on specific environmental, health or public concerns. It is also expected that monitoring will uncover gaps in our understanding of impacts, particularly in the area of cause and effect relationships.

Conducting a disposal site monitoring study

Monitoring a disposal at sea site involves an assessment of its physical, chemical and biological features. Physical monitoring relates to the collection of information necessary for determining the area of deposition (delineating the disposal site boundaries). Employing new technology allows better and more detailed study of the accumulation of dredged material within the designated area of disposal, and studying and documenting evidence of sediment transport from the disposal site.

Biological and chemical assessments may be carried out separately or concurrently, and the monitoring design takes into account the size and dispersal characteristics of the site. Chemical monitoring is aimed at measuring the concentrations of selected organic and inorganic contaminants in sediments. Biological monitoring can involve toxicity testing of collected sediments using ECCC standardized toxicity tests and benthic community surveys.

Guidelines and guidance

In 1998, the National Guidelines for Monitoring Dredged and Excavated Material at Ocean Disposal Sites were finalized by the Disposal at Sea Program. These guidelines incorporate a tiered approach to physical, chemical, biological testing and data interpretation.

To support the National Guidelines, 2 technical guidance documents are available. The Technical Guidance for Physical Monitoring at Ocean Disposal Sites provides detailed information on geological surveying methods and sediment transport models. The Guidance Document on Collection and Preparation of Sediments for Physicochemical Characterization and Biological Testing is employed at disposal sites for monitoring, as well as load sites.

Impact hypotheses derived during the permit application review constitute the logical foundation for any subsequent monitoring. Monitoring of disposal sites receiving dredged material generally relates to the same concerns:

  • short and long-term effects on biota
  • habitat destruction and unacceptable impacts on fish and fisheries
  • contamination of edible fish and shellfish
  • protection of sensitive areas
  • conflicts with other legitimate uses of the sea.

While the Disposal at Sea Program has responsibilities for monitoring the cumulative or long-term effects associated with the use of a disposal site, permit applicants should be aware that the responsibility may be shared with project proponents. If monitoring of cumulative effects is required at locations other than the disposal site, for example at a dredging site, the responsibility would likely fall upon the proponent.

See the disposal at sea home page for more publications.

Monitoring reports

Each year, environmental monitoring is conducted at representative disposal sites. The Disposal at Sea Program is administered through regional offices which are largely responsible for the permit review process, as well as for planning, conducting and reporting on monitoring studies undertaken in their areas. In order to respond to Canada's national and international reporting obligations, summaries of annual monitoring activities, based on regional detailed reports for the previous year, are produced.

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