Port authority-led ECHO Program celebrates record-breaking participation in voluntary efforts to protect southern resident killer whales
November 29, 2022
More than 85% of all large commercial ships slowed down or stayed distanced from key areas of southern resident killer whale critical habitat as part of the ECHO Program’s measures.
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program today reports record-breaking participation rates in its 2022 voluntary underwater noise reduction initiatives to support the recovery of southern resident killer whales.
During this year’s seasonal measures, which ran from June 1 to October 31, a record-breaking 86% of all large commercial ships slowed down or stayed distanced while transiting through key areas of southern resident killer whale critical habitat at Swiftsure Bank, Haro Strait and Boundary Pass, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Altogether, more than 80 marine transportation organizations participated in these measures, which covered nearly 80 nautical miles of the Salish Sea.
“This year, the ECHO Program’s positive impact not only spanned across the largest geographical area to date—80 nautical miles of southern resident killer whale critical habitat—it also benefited from the highest-ever participation rates by the marine transportation industry to date, in support of an iconic endangered species,” said Duncan Wilson, vice president of environment and external affairs at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “These impressive results demonstrate the continued effectiveness of the ECHO Program’s voluntary measures—built on strong collaboration between industry, government, Indigenous communities, and environmental groups—at supporting the recovery of at-risk whales in our region.”
Launched in 2014, the ECHO Program is one of the ways the port authority works to fulfil its mandate to enable Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver while protecting the environment and considering local communities. In collaboration with government, the marine transportation industry, Indigenous communities, and environmental organizations, the ECHO Program works to reduce the cumulative impacts of commercial shipping on at-risk whales, with a particular focus on reducing underwater noise, one of the four key threats to southern resident killer whales.
Notably this year, in the ECHO Program’s lateral displacement for tugs in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, tug operators participated at a record-breaking rate of 97%—a 9% increase from the previous record of 88%—while in the Haro Strait and Boundary Pass slowdown, a record-breaking 93% of large commercial ships slowed down while transiting through this known area of importance to southern resident killer whales.
In the Swiftsure Bank slowdown trial, which was expanded this year to include both the inbound and outbound shipping lanes, 82% of all large commercial ships slowed down while transiting through this known southern resident killer whale foraging area. The ECHO Program gives special thanks to the Makah Tribe and Pacheedaht First Nation, who were key partners in the development and implementation of safe ship slowdown practices through this important area.
“Even though participating in the ECHO Program’s measures adds extra time to ships’ journeys or requires them to take an alternate route, this year, more than 85% of all large commercial ships voluntarily participated in these important efforts to reduce disturbance to endangered whales in our region,” added Wilson. “These are no small efforts by ship operators and pilots, and we sincerely thank them for their dedication to creating a quieter underwater environment for the whales.”
In 2021, as a result of the strong participation rates in the ECHO Program’s voluntary measures, underwater sound intensity was reduced by up to 55% in key foraging areas for the southern resident killer whales. In spring or summer 2023, the ECHO Program will publish results on the underwater sound intensity reductions achieved as a result of its 2022 measures.
Shipping Federation of Canada –– “Ensuring the safe co-existence of ships and Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea is important and challenging work. We are proud of the efforts that the owners, operators, and agents of ocean ships carrying Canada’s exports and imports have voluntarily undertaken to mitigate the impacts of their activities on at-risk whales. The ECHO Program is a world-leading example of how diverse interests can come together and take meaningful action toward a common goal like protecting whales. We look forward to continuing and refining this work in the years ahead.” –– Miako Ushio, President, Shipping Federation of Canada
Council of Marine Carriers –– “The Council of Marine Carriers are dedicated supporters of the ECHO Program and are proud of our participation rate and the program’s overall success this year. Our membership earn their income from these waters, and we live and play in the communities that surround them so doing the right thing is an easy ask. The real thanks go to the mariners that sail on our vessels and do their utmost to protect the environment and the at-risk whales every day they are out on the water.” –– Paul Hilder, President, Council of Marine Carriers
Chamber of Shipping –– “We are very pleased with the high participation rate in the ECHO Program as it demonstrates our members’ collective commitment to cetacean protection and marine conservation. Vessel slowdowns also have co-benefits for reducing air pollution in the vicinity of port communities. ECHO’s success is the product of strong governance, a science-centric and adaptive approach, and the valuable input from a diverse and committed community of experts. The Chamber’s members move all types of cargo and people in support of Canada’s international trade and Canadian businesses across the country. These significant achievements were realized in the face of a pandemic, severe supply chain congestion, and span the binational waters of both Canada and the United States. A culture of continuous improvement is the hallmark of this globally recognized initiative,” said Robert Lewis-Manning, President, Chamber of Shipping
Cruise Lines International Association –– “As part of the responsible resumption of cruising in Canadian waters and other parts of the world, CLIA and our cruise line members continue to build on an ambitious environmental and destination stewardship agenda. ECHO’s success mirrors the commitment of our member lines to work with ports and destinations in ways that provide the best balance of the economic health of the communities and ports visited. The ECHO program has led to significant achievements in understanding how a collaborative approach can benefit the Southern Resident killer whales and other whales whose home is the Salish Sea. We look forward to continuing this important work with the Port of Vancouver and other ports and destinations to promote sustainable tourism practices that make cruise one of the best ways to see the world,” said Donna Spalding of the Cruise Lines International Association.
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