Tuesday, June 4, 2013

California shipping lanes moved in attempt to avoid killing whales

Map showing the modifications (in green)
to the three lanes directing ships into the San Francisco Bay. (NOAA)
>>> geolocalization with the Marine GeoGarage <<< 
Updated nautical charts in accordance with mandated changes to shipping lanes
available in next NOAA update in the GeoGarage very soon.

From Wired

Whales near California’s largest ports are about to gain a bit more protection from the cargo ships with which they share their marine homes.
In recent years, a record number of the seafaring giants have been hit and killed by ships sailing along the California coast, at levels that are unsustainable for already endangered populations.

Changes to the mile-wide shipping lanes that funnel maritime traffic into the San Francisco Bay and to the ports in the Los Angeles area go into effect on June 1, and some of the modifications have been made specifically to reduce the presence of ships in areas whales are known to frequent

Scientists, conservationists, policy makers, and the shipping industry are working together
to minimize the intersection of whales and ship traffic.

“Nobody wants to hit a whale, for the same reasons that nobody driving down the highway wants to hit a deer, or a possum, or a skunk,” John Berge, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, said on Tuesday at a panel discussion about the issue.
“But sometimes, whales and ships find themselves in close proximity.”

Soon, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents marine terminal operators and ocean carriers calling on west coast ports, will announce a large-scale project aimed at reducing ship strikes.
Timed to coincide with the lane changes, the initiative will help fund whale monitoring flights over the Channel Islands, integrate and test a whale-spotting app, and facilitate the placement of whale observers on ships.

The shipping lane changes come as ship strikes are growing in visibility and concern is mounting.
In recent years, record numbers of endangered whales have washed ashore or been dragged into ports, wrapped around the bows of ships.
But those whales are just a fraction of the total killed – the ocean doesn’t purge its fallen as often as they are taken.

“I think it’s likely that less than 10 percent of ship strikes are documented,” said John Calambokidis, a research biologist with the Cascadia Research Collective, who has been studying ship strikes in the Pacific Ocean for decades.
“This is a worldwide problem.”

Near-miss (NOAA)

Between 1988 and 2012, at least 30 whales – humpbacks, grays, fins, and blues — were confirmed to have been killed or injured by ships near San Francisco [pdf].
A global database compiled and maintained by the International Whaling Commission documents hundreds more. And as whale populations rebound and move into new habitats, more whales are finding themselves in the paths of busy maritime traffic.
With ship densities unlikely to decline any time soon, and whales being difficult to relocate, scientists, conservationists, and the shipping industry are working on ways to minimize the intersections of the seafaring giants.

Starting Saturday, ships sailing through four marine sanctuaries off the California coast will be confined to narrower, more predictable paths, which should reduce the risk of colliding with whales and smaller fishing vessels.

Near San Francisco, there are three designated routes leading into and out of the Bay.
All three approaches – one each pointing north, west, and south – are being extended farther from shore.
The extensions, particularly to the western lane, are important steps toward protecting the whales that congregate near the continental shelf drop-off.

“That, in terms of the lane changes, seems to have a really significant benefit for whales,” said Jackie Dragon, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace.

The new, modified lanes are the product of a Coast Guard Port Access Route Study assessing the traffic schemes that direct ships into the region, which includes one of the country’s busiest container ship ports, in Oakland.
Initiated in 2009, the study was originally motivated by a fatal boat collision two years earlier in the waters north of San Francisco, and the need to make nearshore ship locations a bit more predictable.

The accident involved a large cargo ship, the 291-foot-long Eva Danielsen, which struck a small fishing boat, the Buona Madre, about 6 miles off the coast of Point Reyes.
Sailing in fog and without a lookout posted or proper safety precautions in place, the container ship’s crew was unaware they’d hit a smaller boat.
The Buona Madre — which also failed to take proper safety measures — sank, and its captain drowned.

In the wake of the accident, the Coast Guard set out to reexamine maritime safety along the routes leading into the San Francisco Bay.
While not initially focused on whales, the study presented an opportunity to make beneficial changes for marine mammals as well.
That included weighing input from the public, marine sanctuary councils, conservation groups, and shipping companies, as well as the Joint Working Group on Vessel Strikes and Acoustic Impacts, a panel of experts in the sciences, conservation, shipping, and policy.
”The actual Port Access Route study is, and was designed, first and foremost, to increase safety for mariners and shipping,” said Dragon, one of the working group’s chairs.
“We were able to get some added cetacean benefits.”

Created in 2010 by the advisory councils of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries, the joint working group began to consider how modifications to the area’s shipping lanes could be part of a long-term, multi-pronged strategy to protect local marine mammals.
In 2012, the group published a report outlining recommendations for the region.
The Coast Guard accepted some of the panel’s recommendations — to extend the western shipping lane, in particular — and in November, the changes were approved by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations body responsible for regulating international maritime operations [pdf].

Perhaps most important for the whales is a 6-nautical-mile extension to the western lane, which runs through the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Until June 1, the lane ended just before it reached the continental shelf drop-off, about 25 miles from shore.
There, where the ocean floor plunges to a depth of around 10,000 feet, seasonal nutrient-rich, cold water upwellings fuel explosions of krill and draw endangered fin, humpback, and blue whales to the area.

Entering and exiting the western lane meant ships would travel parallel to shore, along the drop-off, and plow through a path littered with feasting whales.
For all their enormity, whales are like squirrels on the maritime highway, helpless beneath the bow or rudder of the 100,000-ton ships that call on ports in the San Francisco Bay.

In 2009, the western lane became the most highly trafficked of the three routes into the Bay, a result of the California Air Resources Board mandate requiring that ships burn more expensive, cleaner fuels closer to shore.
Pointed perpendicularly to the coast, the western approach kept ships offshore for longest.

When a bumper crop of krill bloomed in 2010, fishermen reported a florid ocean, teeming with more marine life — and way more whales — than they’d seen in years.

That same year, scientists reported a startling number of shipstruck dead whales, found floating offshore, washed up on beaches or dragged into port.
One humpback, two fin whales, and two blues – the confirmed toll for the region was higher than in the previous five years, combined.

Now, the longer western lane means ships will continue the perpendicular trajectory until they’ve crossed over the shelf drop-off, and away from areas most frequented by whales.

In Southern California, lanes leading through the Channel Islands and into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are also being tweaked.
They’re being narrowed, and diverted around areas where whales are likely to be.
Southern California’s whales have fared no better than their northern cousins of late.
In 2007, at least five blue whales were killed by ships in the Santa Barbara Channel – a number high enough for such an endangered species that NOAA declared the deaths an Unusual Mortality Event.

In fact, the impact of ship strikes on the 3,000-strong blue whale population has scientists especially worried.
“Not only are blue whale populations not very large, but their trend is not recovering as it should be from whaling,” Calambokidis said.
“Ship strikes could be the reason.”

The work is far from done.
Near San Francisco, the Joint Working Group is moving toward the next step in a strategy they hope will ultimately include what are known as Dynamic Management Areas.
These are areas where access to shipping lanes is responsive to fluctuating concentrations of whales.
If a congregation of whales has settled near one lane, then ships might be advised to avoid that route. Or, if they must use it, they will be told to slow down and use extreme caution.

But before that can happen, scientists need to know where the whales are, and whether they can gather enough data to trigger lane restrictions with conservation benefits, said Michael Carver, deputy superintendent for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
“Once that is determined, NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard and the shipping industry will work together,” Carver said.
“Our two agencies have a strong commitment to cooperating in the development, implementation, and enforcement of programs for marine protected resources.”

Note :
The availability of updated nautical charts that reflect imminent changes to shipping lanes.
Effective June 1, 2013, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is amending vessel traffic separation schemes in an effort to enhance navigational safety and to protect endangered whales.

The IMO adjustments to shipping lanes, which are backed by National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research, will affect waterways along the California coast, from Long Beach all the way north to San Francisco, including Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries, as well as prime commercial fishing grounds.

The charts impacted include charts 18724, 18647, 18649, 18728, 18729, 18744, 18725, 18746, 18645, 18721, 18640, 18680, 18700, 18720, 18740 and 18022.

A specific update will be done in the next days to include all these changes.

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