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ECHO Program: Voluntary Vessel Slowdown

Since 2015, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has been spearheading an initiative entitled Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO). The program is designed around “managing the impact of shipping activities on at-risk whales throughout the southern coast of British Columbia” and to “develop mitigation measures that will lead to a quantifiable reduction in potential threats to whales as a result of shipping activities.” In order to accomplish this, the ECHO program has targeted three main categories: 1. Acoustic Disturbance 2. Physical Disturbance 3. Environmental Contaminants.

Throughout the years the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has teamed with local industry partners in order to establish effective mitigation tools aimed at addressing the above 3 threats. Among their successful projects is the vessel slowdown trial which was first tested in 2017 and was designed for the recovery of the endangered southern killer resident whale (SKRW). Named after the host region, the Haro Strait vessel slowdown concluded that “reducing vessel speeds is an effective way of reducing the underwater noise generated at the vessel source.”

Overwhelming participation and feedback from the industry following the flagship year meant an extension for the program into 2018. In a review of the 1st years data; it was acknowledged that the optimum speeds for reducing noise levels were as follows: 15 knots (vehicle carriers/cruise/container vessels) and 12.5 knots (bulkers/tankers). These new speeds were implemented for the following year with the location of the slowdown and total distance remaining unchanged.

The Port of Vancouver held a meeting on May 10th to discuss their intentions for the 2019 voluntary vessel slowdown trial. The amendments reflect the interpretation of the data collected over previous years of the voluntary slowdown program in 2017 and 2018. Among the major recommendations discussed was a proposal to expand the slowdown area to include Boundary Pass. Furthermore, optimal speeds have been narrowed to 14.5 knots (vehicle carriers/cruise/container vessels) and 11.5 knots (bulkers/tankers).

Participation in recent years has been impressive, with 2018 having 87 percent of large commercial piloted vessels engaging in the voluntary slowdown. While all parties understand the limitations and restraints imposed on the commercial shipping industry, continued support from stakeholders is crucial to ensuring the success of the program going forward. We hope to return again next year with positive results and observed benefits to the southern resident killer whale population.