Shipping and marine mammals

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is recognized globally as a leader in sustainability, including by the likes of Sir Richard Branson and the Carbon War Room. Our beautiful and clean port does not happen by accident, but through a deep commitment to preserving the rich natural beauty and biodiversity within, and sometimes beyond, our port jurisdiction.

The health and safety of wildlife populations in local waters is essential to a fully-functioning marine environment. Of particular interest are marine mammals and – in particular because of their low numbers – southern resident killer whales.

While the annual number of vessels destined for Vancouver’s port is just over 3,000, the Strait of Georgia is transited tens of thousands of times each year by ferries, tugs, fishing vessels, whale watching boats and recreational boaters. Population growth driving increased transportation, trade and recreational demands will continue to place increasing pressure on the environment. Each of these vessels may not be particularly problematic on its own, but collectively and in context of the consequences of historic activities such as live captures and hunting, vessel activity could present significant challenges for the future recovery of southern resident killer whales.

We are mandated by the Canada Marine Act to protect the environment. Our approach is not to sit on the sidelines, but to lead where it makes sense and help where we can. There are proactive actions we can take now to improve conditions for whales.

In 2008, Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued a recovery strategy under the Species at Risk Act for both the northern and southern resident killer whales. The strategy identifies underwater noise and physical disturbance, from sources such as military or navigation sonar and vessels, as key threats to killer whales. The killer whale population is also under pressure from a range of other human-related threats, such as increased levels of environmental contaminants and reductions in the availability of salmon prey.

We share the concerns of Fisheries and Oceans Canada regarding the recovery of southern resident killer whales. That is why we created the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program – a collaborative research and management initiative coordinating the efforts and resources of multiple stakeholders. The program was established with government agencies, First Nations individuals, marine industry users, environmental and conservation organizations and scientific experts to better understand the cumulative impacts of all shipping activities on whales throughout the southern coast of British Columbia and inform mitigation solutions. Our long-term goal is to develop mitigation measures that will lead to a quantifiable reduction in potential threats to whales as a result of shipping activities. Mitigation measures may include incentives for the use of green vessel technology, changes to operational activities of ocean-going vessels, a certification program for quiet vessels, and/or the development of noise criteria for vessels entering the port.

Also through the ECHO Program, we are exploring technologies for ship maintenance that could reduce underwater noise. For example, cleaning a large ship’s hull in the water is no longer permitted in many ports due to the potential release of contaminants and organisms, and increased turbidity, all of which could be harmful to marine wildlife. We are interested in whether a ship with a clean hull may be quieter and, if so, can we support an environmentally-friendly way to do that cleaning.

We are intent on addressing these and other environmental challenges in our region by working with others in a way that will allow humans, whales and other wildlife to thrive for generations to come.

Duncan Wilson
Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility
Vancouver Fraser Port Authority