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Commercial Ocean Fertilization Project Halted
By Andrew C. Revkin
The New York Times
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Planktos, the California company trying to turn a profit by fertilizing the ocean with iron dust, pulled the plug on planned field tests on Wednesday, citing a lack of funds. At the company's Web site, planktos.com, a simple notice blamed the shutdown on a "highly effective disinformation campaign waged by anti-offset crusaders."
The business plan had been to sell "carbon offset" credits earned by triggering blooms of phytoplankton that, in theory, would absorb a predictable amount of the climate-warming gas carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and then sink to the seabed. The credits would be sold to companies or individuals trying to compensate for unavoidable emissions of carbon dioxide (from driving, flying, and the like).
Plankton blooms happen naturally when dust containing iron settles on ocean waters where a lack of iron otherwise prevents plankton from thriving. Huge blooms have resulted after dust from the Sahara Desert blows over the Atlantic, for example. But efforts to replicate the process artificially have met with strong opposition from environmental groups. These include Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which for years has confronted, and sometimes rammed, whaling and fishing vessels. Sea Shepherd had threatened to block a fertilization effort by Planktos last summer near the Galapagos Islands, forcing it to change plans.
A number of marine and climate scientists have also opposed commercial fertilization efforts, for various reasons. In a "joint policy statement" published in the journal Science last month, a group of researchers from around the world said trade in carbon credits earned this way was premature "unless research provides the scientific foundation to evaluate risks and benefits."
Company officials have said that was precisely the purpose of this latest cruise of their vessel, the Weatherbird II, which has been stuck in port on the Portuguese island of Madeira after months of revised plans and failed efforts to attract more investors. Financial troubles had been mounting for months.
On Wednesday, the company said it had called back the vessel and its crew.
The Planktos statement said:
"Management has also radically downsized the company's staffing while the board of directors has formed a new committee to explore all options currently available. Options include a possible re-launch of planned marine operations, pending additional financing or new partnerships, as well as the possible pursuit of other promising business opportunities in the environmental sphere.
The board of directors continues to believe in the urgent ecological necessity of its ocean restoration plans and the scientific speciousness of objections voiced to date. However, ideological hostility to and misrepresentations of this work will continue to stymie progress until the true gravity of our climatic and ocean
crises is more widely understood."
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