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Courtesy Mark Hume – The Globe and Mail

Not every marine ecosystem gets a second chance. Fewer still get ruined twice. But Howe Sound, where an environmental rebirth has been unfolding for the past eight years, may soon start to slide back toward environmental sterility.

Could we really blow it twice? Ruth Simons, executive director of the Future of Howe Sound Society, hopes not – but she fears the worst.

“When you look at how fortunate we are … it would really be sad to let that slip away [again],” she says. “My biggest fear is that irreversible projects, projects that are not renewable, that are not going to benefit the region, go ahead. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Gone again, that is. It seemed like it was gone forever several decades ago when the cumulative impact of pollution from pulp mills and acid drainage from an abandoned copper mine left the waters of Howe Sound largely lifeless.

The seabed near the Britannia Beach mine was described as “a moonscape” by divers who went down looking for marine life after the mine closed in 1974. They couldn’t even find algae.

Across the sound at Port Mellon, a pulp mill that started up in 1909 had drained so much sulphate into the waters that by the 1980s, the crab fishery was closed.

A once-thriving commercial prawn fishery also shut down throughout Howe Sound because there was so little to catch. Salmon stopped running into many of the smaller streams. And the herring, which once spawned in great swirling schools, simply vanished.

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