Dead and distressed wildlife around Bella Bella diesel spill causing concern

Diesel spill

The Heiltsuk First Nation community is alarmed by the discovery of dead and distressed wildlife near the Bella Bella diesel spill.

According to reports, the fuel comes from the wreckage of the Nathan E. Stewart tugboat, an American vessel that was carrying 200,000 litres of fuel from Alaska when it ran aground, crashing against rocks in the Seaforth Channel. The boat sank approximately 28 kilometres from the coast of Bella Bella on October 13 and has been leaking diesel ever since.

There have been efforts to remove the fuel, but local First Nations told CBC News that it’s already devastated clam beds in the area, causing the local crab fishery—a vital food source for the community—to shut down.

Photo by Heiltsuk Nation/Tavish Campbell

“It’s an environmental disaster. It’s a cultural disaster. It’s affecting every facet of our community,” Jessie Housty, an elected tribal councillor for the Heiltsuk First Nation, told CBC.

In the past week, there have also been numerous reports of dead wildlife, including a humpback whale, seals, crabs, and a sea otter.

“I’m not happy with the images and reports I’m getting from the spill zone,” Kelly Brown, the director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, said in a release. “It’s disturbing to see our food and marine life being so severely impacted.”

Photo by Heiltsuk Nation

But land animals are being impacted, too. Deer often lick the salt off rocks and seaweed, which led to one ingesting diesel near Gale Creek.

Although oil containment booms were put in place, according to reports, they were washed away on Friday, and oil continued to seep from the wreck. According to estimates more than half of the 200,000 litres has leaked from the tug boat since the spill.