TORONTO – One of only three senior specialists in the protection of underwater shipwrecks and artifacts in Canada and the United States has been laid off by the Ontario government, putting the province’s marine heritage at serious risk.
Dr. Simon Spooner, the only senior specialist in marine archeology in Ontario, was laid off December 2 by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Spooner advised the government on the excavation and preservation of artifacts found underwater, including shipwrecks.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said the government closure of the marine section responsible for the protection of heritage and culture underwater means the province is turning its back on Ontario’s proud maritime history.
“The government will no longer have the expertise to protect our waters from toxic chemicals leaking from sunken ships or preserving the thousands of marine artifacts for future generations to enjoy and learn from,” said Thomas. “The provincial government is abandoning the program when most countries are strengthening their protection of historic shipwrecks and under water heritage culture.”
The marine program is designed to protect the underwater culture heritage of the province. The land mass of Ontario is covered by 158,650 square kilometers of water, has over 250,000 lakes and over 100,000 kilometers of rivers. These waterways contain thousands of shipwrecks and First Nation artifacts. Under the Ontario Heritage Act, the government is legally required to protect the shipwrecks and heritage underwater.
Pollution risks happen as fuel and other chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), begin to leak from ships sunk in 1910 or later. The environmental impact from these types of leaks will be catastrophic, affecting fresh water of shore communities and shared coastlines with the United States.
“The potential environmental disaster will cost tens of millions to clean up when prevention would be at a fraction of that cost,” Thomas said. “This move is not only short-sighted, but will cause damage that will be irreversible.”
Karrie Ouchas, OPSEU Communications – 905-213-7735 mobile