In an interview to SAFETY4SEA, Carrie Brown, Director of Ecosystem Management and Environmental Programs at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, focuses on the ECHO Program and its efforts to reduce underwater noise in order to support at-risk whale species.
nderwater noise is a serious problem, affecting a large number of marine animals. In order to provide a solution to this issue, the ECHO Program provides resources for those who navigate west coast waters to help familiarize them with how to share our waters responsibly with marine mammals in the region. As Carrie Brown, Director of ecosystem management and environmental programs at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, explains: “The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is a first-of-its-kind program led by the port authority to better understand and reduce the impacts of commercial shipping on at-risk whales.”
SAFETY4SEA: What are your top priorities on your agenda for the next five years? Tell us a few words about Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led ECHO Program. What is the focus, and goals of the program?
Carrie Brown: The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is a first-of-its-kind program led by the port authority to better understand and reduce the impacts of commercial shipping on at-risk whales. The program was first launched in 2014, in recognition of growing marine traffic along Canada’s west coast and its potential to impact local whales such as the endangered southern resident killer whales. As many different organizations operate commercial ships in the region, the ECHO Program brings together a wide range of partners and advisors from across government agencies, the marine transportation industry, environmental groups, and Indigenous communities. Through the ECHO Program, we coordinate one of the world’s largest voluntary efforts to reduce underwater noise from ships, while advancing research and education activities to increase understanding of the effects of underwater noise and inform the development of effective solutions. Our long-term goal is to quantifiably reduce threats to whales as a result of commercial shipping, towards our vision of making the Port of Vancouver the world’s most
S4S: What have been the results, so far, of the ECHO Program’s efforts to reduce underwater noise?
C.B: We are incredibly proud of the strong rates at which the marine transportation industry has voluntarily participated in the ECHO Program’s measures. Over the last six years, thousands of ship operators have voluntarily slowed down or stayed distanced in southern resident killer whale critical habitat, resulting in more than 12,000 [SA1] slower or more distanced ship transits. Thanks to these strong participation rates, underwater sound intensity has been reduced by up to 55% in key foraging areas for the southern resident killer whales – helping to create a quieter underwater environment for the whales to hunt, navigate, and communicate using echolocation.
S4S: What are the benefits of slower ship speeds?
C.B: Slowing ships down supports healthier ecosystems by reducing disturbances to marine life caused by underwater noise, and by reducing the risk of collisions between marine mammals and ships. In addition, some studies have found that reduced ship speeds can also reduce overall fuel consumption. As the global conversation continues about how to improve the sustainability of shipping, we hope to encourage ship owners and builders to consider how they can make their vessels both cleaner – and quieter.
S4S: What insights can you share about how ports and the marine shipping industry can address underwater noise, globally?
C.B: Through the ECHO Program’s research and initiatives, we’ve gleaned key insights about how to create a quieter underwater environment for marine life that can be applied globally. As demonstrated by the ECHO Program’s voluntary measures, one of the most effective ways to reduce underwater noise is by encouraging ships to reduce their speeds or increase their distance from important habitat areas.
Another key way that ports can encourage cleaner and quieter shipping practices is through incentive programs, such as our EcoAction Program. Through this program, the port authority provides discounts of up to 55% off harbour dues for shipping lines that have taken measures to reduce their environmental footprint, such as by using noise-quieting propellers or using alternative marine fuels.
S4S: What other actions has the Port of Vancouver taken to become a green shipping hub?
C.B: The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has a vision to make the Port of Vancouver the world’s most sustainable port – which we define as a port that delivers economic prosperity through trade, maintains a healthy environment, and enables thriving communities. Towards this vision, and towards our goal of phasing out all port-related emissions by 2050, we lead innovative programs to encourage more sustainable shipping practices at the Port of Vancouver.
In 2007, for example, we became one of the first ports, globally, to introduce an incentive program for shipping lines that follow environmentally responsible practices; in 2009, we became the first port in Canada to introduce shore power; and through the ECHO Program, we continue to coordinate one of the world’s largest voluntary efforts to reduce underwater noise from ships.
Recently, we also announced our commitment to explore the feasibility of the world’s first, cruise-led green corridor from Washington to Alaska, in partnership with the Port of Seattle, the City and Borough of Juneau, and leading cruise lines. Through collaborative efforts like these, we hope to continue to support cleaner and quieter shipping, both at the Port of Vancouver and abroad.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.