Guardians Protect Coastal Waters: Case Study in Wuikinuxv Territory

Toxic spills can quickly turn into tragedies when responses are slow or disorganized. Following the Nathan E. Stewart tragedy, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council noted the slow response time and confusion about who was in charge.

Guardians are often first responders in these accidents and spills, filling in the gaps left by other government agencies that in many cases are not able to respond quickly enough.

On February 15, 2021, a storage tank released 7,000-8,000 L of diesel onto the shore of Rivers Inlet in Wuikinuxv territory. The Guardians responded immediately, arriving on-site within the hour, and getting to work with assessment, containment, and identifying culturally and ecologically sensitive estuaries and food resources.

The next day, fellow Coastal Guardian Watchmen from the Heiltsuk Nation travelled across the cold and rough winter waters to bring supplies and their emergency response expertise.

While the Wuikinuxv and Heiltsuk Guardians worked on-the-ground, provincial and federal agencies assisted by remotely coordinating response efforts and ordering an over-flight to assess the spill. Three days after the spill was reported, and when most of the spill area was contained, two provincial officers arrived to assist.

The Guardians contained 60 percent of the area within one day, and 90 percent within three days. Fortunately, diesel did not enter the culturally and ecologically sensitive Kilbella Bay and estuary. The quick and efficient Guardian response also saved $19,129 as compared to the cost of a provincial response.

“[Wuikinuxv] wouldn’t have been able to do this work without the Guardians… it would have taken two or three days for a contractor to travel to the territory and begin to deal with the spill.”
– Andra Forney, Wuikinuxv Stewardship Director

By the numbers

  • 1 hour = time it took Guardians to be on-site at the spill (3 days before provincial officers)
  • 90% = the area of the spill Guardians contained within 3 days
  • $19,129 = the cost saving for having Guardians address the spill

Learn more about the benefits of Coastal Guardians

Download our Case for Investment final report: Coastal Guardian Watchmen: Stewarding the Coast for All (pdf).