Enhancing emergency preparedness and response

Collage of outdoor images including coastlines, people and marine birds

Since its launch in November 2016, the Oceans Protection Plan has enabled Environment and Climate Change Canada to advance our science, strengthen our partnerships, and improve our ability to prepare for and respond to pollution emergencies.

Five years of accomplishments

Over 65 exercises
completed with key partners on environmental emergency response

Over 60 scientific publications
published on alternative tools and techniques for oil spill response

8 priority marine bird species
studied to better understand habitat use and environmental threats

16,000 km of coastal images
collected to document the shorelines of British Columbia

5 weather buoys
deployed to collect data on winds, waves, and at-sea temperature

3 priority shoreline areas
surveyed to document current environmental conditions

Success Stories

Operating 24/7 in a virtual world

The National Environmental Emergencies Centre receives thousands of notifications of environmental incidents every year. The centre’s mission is to provide consolidated science data and advice on sensitive ecosystems and wildlife, on behalf of the federal government, to help guide on-the-ground response operations.

Operating 24/7 with emergency officers located in satellite offices across Canada, our operations need to be flexible to support collaboration, information sharing and coordination. Through the Oceans Protection Plan, we hired more environmental emergencies officers and opened a centralized National Environmental Emergencies Operations Centre in Montreal, Quebec allowing us to offer consistent and coordinated support for incidents of any size. New tools and technologies have enabled us to bring together our experts both in person and virtually.

During the pandemic, this flexibility allowed us to maintain our 24/7 operations and services while reducing the number of people physically located in the operations centre.

Developing new technologies

When we respond to environmental emergencies, it is critical to have the best available weather data to plan effective response operations and to help ensure the safety of the environmental responders. Through the Oceans Protection Plan, we have developed new modelling capabilities to help responders deal with environmental emergencies on the water.

At the Canadian Centre for Meteorological and Environmental Prediction in Dorval, Quebec, a team of research scientists, developers and other experts focus on developing tools that provide modelling information to support emergency responses. They have developed new, higher-resolution and more sophisticated coastal ocean, wave and ice forecasting models for Canada’s three coastlines. These tools help responders better estimate the extent of oil spills and project the movements of objects adrift, including people and vessels in distress.

In addition, they have developed models that forecast the movement and distribution of pollutants in the main waterways from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, including the St. Lawrence Seaway, giving us a better understanding of the complex workings of this vast watershed. Ultimately, these improvements have increased the quality and quantity of information that responders can access when responding to on-water emergencies and help them react to local changes in environmental conditions.

Turning research into response advice

Millions of marine birds rely on the waters of the Canada’s Pacific year-round. Through research conducted under the Oceans Protection Plan, we now have new information about how marine birds use habitat, from Haida Gwaii to southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia. We collected baseline data on marine bird numbers and locations by conducting over 1,200 kilometers of at-sea marine bird surveys on vessels and by studying birds tagged at colonies using advanced tracking technology.

This baseline information helps identify the key areas marine birds use, guides our emergency response advice, and helps us better understand the risks marine birds face from human activities such as marine shipping.

Our Wildlife Emergency Response Coordinator uses this information when providing advice on potential impacts to wildlife. During the response operations for the Bligh Island Shipwreck on the west coast of Vancouver Island from December 2020 to July 2021, having up-to-date and seasonal data on birds in the area was essential in assessing the potential risk to marine birds.

Strengthening community partnerships

The British Columbia coastline is vast and diverse. A better understanding of its features, including the physical characteristics of priority shoreline areas, is important when preparing for environmental emergencies in these sensitive coastline ecosystems. Through the Oceans Protection Plan, we completed our mapping of priority shoreline areas by collecting geo-tagged photos and continuous high-definition videos from a helicopter at low altitudes.

This work was enhanced by collaborations and partnerships with First Nations communities in British Columbia. Multiple First Nations participated in this project, including Namgis First Nation and members of the Nanwakolas Council and the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance.

Nation members joined us as we gathered the photos and videos, which they were later able to access through our web-based shoreline database. This new information enabled them to determine the best points to access the shoreline in remote areas, identify sites for sustainable harvest opportunities, and verify culturally important sites for their communities.

As a result of this work, we are now better prepared to respond to a pollution incident on the British Columbia coast in a way that protects these sensitive coastline ecosystems.

Going Forward

We are using the tools and technologies we have developed, and the data and scientific research we have conducted, to influence and strengthen the scientific advice we provide during responses to pollution emergencies. Through new and enhanced collaborations and partnerships, we are strengthening our position as the Government of Canada’s source for up-to-date, consolidated federal science data and advice on sensitive ecosystems and wildlife.

This is an evolving process and as more data becomes available from in-field and laboratory research, we will continue to build on our current tools and technologies to increase the range of services we provide to our partners in emergency response.

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