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Port authority-led ECHO Program launches seventh season of measures to protect endangered southern resident killer whales

June 1, 2023

New research shows program’s ship slowdowns can reduce the risk of whale strikes by a third, in addition to cutting underwater noise in half

Today, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program launched its seventh season of large-scale threat reduction measures to support the recovery of at-risk whales, such as the endangered southern resident killer whales.

To reduce threats to whales such as underwater noise and ship strikes, more than 60 marine transportation organizations have confirmed their intention to participate in the ECHO Program’s measures, which ask ship operators to slow down or stay distanced within key areas of importance to southern resident killer whales.

Last year, the ECHO Program’s voluntary measures reduced underwater noise—one of the key threats to southern resident killer whales—by nearly 50% in the slowdown areas. Additionally, a new study shows that the program’s slowdowns can also reduce the risk of ship strikes by up to nearly a third (27%) and can reduce air emissions within the slowdown areas.

In total, the program’s voluntary measures span across nearly 80 nautical miles of both Canadian and U.S. waters and cover nearly 50% of all southern resident killer whale critical habitat that overlaps with international shipping lines, in key areas such as Swiftsure Bank, Haro Strait, Boundary Pass, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Last year, thanks to the support of partners and advisors, the ECHO Program saw all-time-high participation rates in its voluntary measures, with ship operators on 86% of all large commercial ship transits reducing their speed or increasing their distance within key areas of southern resident killer whale critical habitat.

“The ECHO Program’s strong results demonstrate the effectiveness of collaborative efforts at addressing threats to endangered species in our region,” said Duncan Wilson, vice president, environment and external affairs at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “We thank the ECHO Program’s many partners and advisors from across government agencies, the marine transportation industry, environmental groups, and Indigenous communities, for their continued support of this important effort to protect at-risk whales.”

“The Government of Canada works closely with Indigenous partners, industry, and local stakeholders to put in place concrete measures to help protect the Southern Resident killer whales. As per our ongoing commitments to protect our oceans, we are proud of our collaboration with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and the members of the ECHO Program to protect this iconic species,” said Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport.

Launched by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in 2014, the ECHO Program is one of the ways the port authority is working to enable Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver within a context of strong environmental protection. Since 2017, the ECHO Program has implemented large-scale threat reduction measures to reduce the effects of commercial shipping on at-risk whales, in close collaboration with
partners and advisors across the region.

For more information:

About the ECHO Program
The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is a world-leading, first-of-its-kind program developed and led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to better understand and reduce the cumulative effects of commercial shipping on at-risk whales off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State, with a focus on endangered southern resident killer whales.

About the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and the Port of Vancouver 
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is the federal agency responsible for the shared stewardship of the lands and waters that make up the Port of Vancouver. Like all Canada Port Authorities, we are accountable to the federal minister of transport, and operate pursuant to the Canada Marine Act with a mandate to enable Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver, while protecting the environment and considering local communities. The port authority is structured as a non-share corporation, is financially self-sufficient and does not rely on tax dollars for operations. Our revenues come from port terminals and tenants who lease port lands, and from port users who pay various fees such as harbour dues. Profits are reinvested in port infrastructure. The port authority oversees the use of port land and water, which includes more than 16,000 hectares of water, over 1,500 hectares of land, and approximately 350 kilometres of shoreline. Located on the southwest coast of British Columbia in Canada, the Port of Vancouver extends from Roberts Bank and the Fraser River up to and including Burrard Inlet, bordering 16 municipalities and intersecting the traditional territories and treaty lands of more than 35 Coast Salish Indigenous groups. The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, and the third largest in North America by tonnes of cargo. Enabling the trade of approximately $305 billion in goods with more than 170 world economies, port activities sustain 115,300 jobs, $7 billion in wages, and $11.9 billion in GDP across Canada.

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