Today, petitions to save Canada’s world renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) signed by more than 23,000 Canadians were delivered to Members of Parliament on the steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. For over four decades, the ELA’s science team has conducted unique ground-breaking research to understand the impact of industrial activity on freshwater lakes and their aquatic food webs.
“The Government of Canada’s decision to cancel this one-of-a-kind science program and disband its world-class team of freshwater scientists, chemists, and biologists has shocked the global scientific community,” says Diane Orihel, Director of the Coalition to Save ELA. “These petitioners represent so many more Canadians who understand the value of the work done at the ELA and why it must be saved.”
“The ELA has become a powerful symbol of the abandonment of public science in this country,” adds Gary Corbett, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the union that represents scientists working for the federal government. “As Canadians become aware of the impact on their environment and on their health and safety, they are raising their voices.”
The ELA program is operated by Environment Canada and Fisheries & Oceans Canada, and consists of a science team based at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a research center of 58 lakes and 19 buildings in northwestern Ontario. The ELA research center is unique because the lakes were set aside for scientists to conduct holistic ecosystem experiments. ELA studies have examined the effects of air pollutants from smokestacks (e.g., acid rain and mercury pollution), water pollutants released from sewage outfalls (e.g., synthetic estrogens, flame retardants, and nanoparticles), and industrial activities that directly impact aquatic ecosystems (e.g., hydroelectric reservoirs, fish farming, and mining).
The petitions delivered today by the Coalition to Save ELA call on the Government to “recognize the importance of the ELA to the Government of Canada’s mandate to study, preserve and protect aquatic ecosystems; reverse the decision to close the ELA research station; and continue to staff and provide financial resources to the ELA at the current, or higher, level of commitment”.
Fisheries & Oceans Canada is considering three options for the future of the ELA research center: transfer of the site to a new operator, closure for an extended period (cold lay-up), or decommissioning the site with bulldozers. But none of these options are acceptable, according to the Coalition to Save ELA. “The Government’s rhetoric of a ‘transfer’ is just smoke and mirrors for the fact they are defunding the top freshwater science program in the world”, concludes Diane Orihel.