Speaking Notes for the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport to the Third Joint Ministerial Conference of the Paris and Tokyo Memoranda of Understanding on Port State Control at a luncheon session on Vessel Noise Vancouver, British Columbia


May 3, 2017

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My friends, a city like Vancouver could hardly exist without its harbour.

And our ports could hardly exist without a healthy shipping industry.

But the waters near our ports are also the habitat of many marine species that really cannot exist without a healthy environment.

The living creatures in the sea are a shared resource. And because of that, their preservation must be a shared responsibility.

The science is clear, and the maritime nations of the world are taking action against the more obvious forms of marine pollution. This includes addressing problems like oil spills and greenhouse gas emissions.

But there is another form of pollution that we need to recognize –and that is acoustic pollution, or vessel noise.

Some whales and dolphins use sound waves to navigate, communicate with each other and locate their prey. We know that the noise from boats and ship engines interferes with their ability to do these things.

We still have a lot to learn about the effects of vessel noise on marine mammals, but there are strong indications that it is a significant stressor, that could be affecting their chances of survival. And so, we need to take precautions now.

Let me tell you about one of these endangered marine mammals, the Southern Resident Killer Whale, which used to be a more common sight along the shores of British Columbia.

There are only 78 of these cetaceans left.

There are three main threats to the Southern Resident.

First, a drop in the availability of food – in this case, salmon.

Second, contaminants in the water.

And third, acoustic disturbance, or noise.

We are only 100 metres from the critical habitat of the Southern Resident Killer Whale right now. By “critical habitat,” we mean a geographic area that has features that are essential to the conservation of a species.

These killer whales spend most of the year in waters south and east of Vancouver Island and around northern Washington State.

As it happens, these areas have a very high volume of marine traffic.

Commercial ships pass through this territory as often as once every hour - 24 hours a day. Local ferries are constantly going back and forth, whale watching boats are everywhere, and the number of pleasure craft in the water is increasing all the time.

And so is the noise, and the stress on the whales.

We want to support the recovery of these magnificent animals, but this requires concerted action by many people.

This is a complex issue that requires action from both inside and outside of government.

Everyone must play their part: scientists; the marine industry; people who work and play on the water; and Indigenous communities here in British Columbia, who have a recognized spiritual and cultural connection to the killer whale.

Partnerships and collaboration are imperative if we are to find ways to support the recovery of the species.

The international community is aware of the vessel noise problem. As you all know, in 2014, the International Maritime Organization issued guidelines on reducing vessel noise, and some countries have developed related strategies.

We in Canada feel that more can, and must be done at the international level, and we will be raising the matter at the next meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO.  

We will be asking all nations to join us in focusing on the issue of vessel noise.

We must go further than the 2014 guidelines, not just because of the Southern Resident Killer Whale in BC, but on behalf of other species facing similar challenges around the world.

Just a few months ago, our government announced the Oceans Protection Plan, a 1.5 billion dollar initiative that includes significant investments to build a world-leading marine safety system, and to strengthen the environmental stewardship of Canada’s coasts.

As part of this plan, the Government of Canada is seeking a better understanding of the impact of noise on the Southern Resident Killer Whale.

We have been working with the scientific community here in Canada and around the world, to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

But we have to apply the precautionary principle. We can’t wait any longer: urgent action is required, for the sake of species at risk.

One way to reduce vessel sound is to reduce vessel speed, which can be effective in certain conditions in a species-critical habitat. Changes to vessel design also help.

And there is an added benefit: some of the technological improvements to lower noise will not only reduce the harm to whales but can also improve ships’ energy efficiency and cut down on related emissions.

Let me describe some of what we are doing in Canada.

The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation - or ECHO – program is a good example of work underway.

This is an initiative led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority aimed at better understanding and managing the impact of shipping on endangered cetaceans like the Southern Resident along the southern coast of British Columbia.

The ECHO program brings together scientists, the shipping industry, conservation and environmental groups, Indigenous communities and government agencies.

We consider ECHO a valuable partner. We have worked, and will continue to work with this organization on several projects.

These include using underwater microphone, or hydrophone arrays to capture and analyze underwater sound in the Georgia Strait; a trial of hull-cleaning to determine its effectiveness in reducing underwater noise; and a pilot project to study the effects of slowing down vessels in Haro Strait.

Some of our partners are doing their part by creating incentives for shipping companies to be more environmentally sensitive.

The Port of Vancouver EcoAction Program and the Port of Prince Rupert Green Wave Program now offer discounts on harbour dues to environmentally-friendly ships, and their criteria include efforts to minimize vessel noise.

As far as we know, these are the first incentive programs of their kind in the world to address the environmental effects of ship-source underwater noise.

There are also some very promising initiatives led by industry.

Green Marine is a voluntary effort launched in 2007 by members of the marine industry in Canada and the United States.

At the beginning of this year, Green Marine introduced into its environmental certification program performance indicators for reducing underwater noise from ships.

These indicators were developed with the collaboration of experts from the marine research and science community, environmental organizations, and the Canadian government.

Beginning next year, Green Marine certification will be contingent on meeting noise-related criteria.

Again, this initiative is the first of its kind in the world.

The Government of Canada has a strong interest in the success of programs like the ECHO program and Green Marine. We will continue to work with these and other similar organizations.

To conclude, I know we all accept that the shipping sector has a major impact on the environment.

I’m very pleased by the actions that are being taken to protect the environment and I want to work with the industry and my counterparts in other countries to encourage continued efforts.

Through our shared commitment, we can support trade and economic activity AND take care of our ecosystems and the creatures that inhabit them.

I look forward to working with you to give the marine industry the knowledge, the tools, and especially the incentives, to preserve our oceans and all the vibrant life they contain.

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