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‘Grinding Nemo’ billboard aims to raise awareness about Bay of Fundy tidal turbines

WATCH ABOVE: It's been nearly three months since the latest effort to harness the energy generating potential of the world's highest tides. Cape Sharp Tidal" is the company behind North America’s first tidal turbine in the Minas Basin, but the project has been met with pushback from fisherman who are paying thousands of dollars to bring their concerns to a larger audience.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) monitored the tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy, however the turbine and its environmental impacts are monitored by Cape Sharp Tidal, which leases the turbine site from FORCE. Global News regrets the error. 

A group of fisherman and concerned citizens are hoping a bold billboard in Halifax will spread their message about the possible environmental impact of North America’s first in-stream tidal turbine.

READ MORE: Bay of Fundy tidal turbine now powering 500 Nova Scotia homes

“We aren’t a company, we are regular people who put our money together to raise awareness around the concerns we have over the potential impact of the tidal turbine,” said Darren Porter, a weir fisherman and spokesperson for the Fundy United Federation.

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The billboard, which features a cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon reading, “Grinding Nemo,” aims to get people “thinking about the potential impact” of the turbine which Cape Sharp Tidal deployed in the Bay of Fundy in November.

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The sign goes on to question Cape Sharp’s reassurances that the innovative energy source won’t have a negative impact on marine life, reading, “Turbines – Are they really green?”

The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s association spearheaded the “Grinding Nemo” campaign, collecting thousands of dollars to create the billboards.

The first of two 1,000-tonne turbines was praised by Environment Minister Michel Samson during its official launch on Nov. 22, 2016.

“We are ushering in a new era of marine renewable energy and taking an unprecedented step toward a lower carbon future,” Samson said at the time.

Issue with consultation

Porter said his group isn’t against green energy, rather they’re against the consultation process that was used.

READ MORE: Giant tidal turbine now in position on Bay of Fundy seabed

“[Cape Sharp Tidal] collected their so-called social license by surveying 500 people and that’s how they moved forward with the project. We have over 40,000 names saying we’re concerned and this is wrong,” Porter said.

A private Halifax-based company, Corporate Research Associates, was hired to conduct a survey aimed at gathering public perception and knowledge of the project.

Their report used statistical research to gauge the level of support and resistance to the tidal project and determine what caused the push-back. They used 500 random telephone surveys across Nova Scotia, with 100 directed to communities surrounding the Bay of Fundy.

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The overall conclusion of the report was that 90 per cent of those surveyed agreed with using the project as a way to test the concept of tidal energy.

Porter said more consideration should have been given to concerned communities before the project was given the green-light.

“They should of used all knowledge to assess the project prior to [proceeding], including indigenous, local fisherman and academic knowledge. Instead they chose to just use academic knowledge,” Porter said.

READ MORE: Bay of Fundy fishermen lose bid to halt tidal power plan pending judicial review

Cape Sharp says both the fishing and indigenous communities were consulted throughout the process.

“We’ve met in community halls, on fishing wharves and around kitchen tables to listen and share directly with those who have a stake in our plans and with whom we have common goals to safeguard the Bay of Fundy,” Cape Sharp spokesperson Sarah Dawson said.

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The turbine site is leased to Cape Sharp Tidal by the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE).

The non-profit organization says extensive discussions were held with people throughout the province and their door is always open to any ongoing concerns.

“We held more than 45 meetings in the last year with groups around the province, with a focus on fishing and First Nations communities,” Matthew Lumley, communications director with FORCE, said in an email.

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Impact on marine life

“FORCE is designed to explore whether in-stream tidal technology can be a potential solution. It will take time to have all the answers – to know if this new technology is both safe and affordable,” Lumley said.

READ MORE: Opponents of Bay of Fundy tidal power project ask judge to suspend testing

Lumley also said international monitoring of tidal turbines in marine environments is promising.

“To date, there hasn’t been a single observed collision between fish or marine mammals and turbines from around the world — generally, fish and mammals appear to avoid turbines when they are turning,” he said.

While FORCE is monitoring the effects of turbine noise on fish, lobster, marine mammals and seabirds, Cape Sharp is responsible for tracking the direct impact of the turbine on marine life with sonar technology.

“We use a combination of passive hydrophones (OceanSonics icListen) to monitor marine mammals, and an active sonar (Tritech Gemini) mounted on the turbine to monitor for fish,” Dawson said.

Porter said he welcomes renewable energy, but feels there’s too many unknown risks with opening up the Bay of Fundy to turbines.

“It’s in a very sensitive area, a historically significant area. This just isn’t about a machine, this resource is a living organism and right now we’re witnessing the corporate colonization of that living resource,” he said.

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A second in-stream tidal turbine is expected to be deployed this year.

The group is hoping to put up more billboards in the future.