The Blog Aquatic » shipping http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 How We Can Respond to Increased Shipping in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/28/how-we-can-respond-to-increased-shipping-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/28/how-we-can-respond-to-increased-shipping-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 12:50:56 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8407 Recent posts on The Blog Aquatic have focused on the Bering Strait: the 50-mile-wide gateway that separates Alaska from Russia, and that provides the only marine passage between the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans.

Two weeks ago, we highlighted the extraordinary abundance of wildlife that migrates through the Bering Strait each spring—from bowhead whales and ice-dependent seals to walruses and seabirds. We also emphasized the importance of the region’s highly productive marine ecosystem to the residents of coastal communities who rely on marine resources to support their subsistence way of life and cultural traditions.

Last week’s blog entry described how the retreat of seasonal sea ice in the Arctic has facilitated the steady growth of vessel traffic through the Bering Strait. We noted that these additional ship transits will cause more air, water and noise pollution; elevate the risk of ship strikes and the potential for introduction of invasive species; and increase the odds of major spills that could have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem. And we described how the Bering Strait’s harsh environmental conditions, remoteness, and lack of infrastructure combine to increase operational risks and create enormous challenges for those who would respond to accidents in the region.

How should we respond to these threats?

We can take one option off the table right away: closing the Bering Strait to vessel traffic is not a viable approach. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law, the Bering Strait is considered an international strait, which means that vessels of all nations have rights to “continuous and expeditious transit of the strait.”

Fortunately, there are more pragmatic ways to mitigate the risks associated with increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait. Some of these measures include:

  • Improve weather forecasts and nautical charting: Weather and sea-ice forecasts in the Bering Strait are not optimal; the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) admits that weather “prediction capabilities are currently poorer in the Arctic than in other parts of the United States.” Better forecasts would help mariners identify and manage risks. In addition, the Bering Strait, along with other marine waters in the U.S. Arctic, is not charted to modern standards. NOAA’s April 2014 Arctic Action Plan describes current charting data as “inadequate or nonexistent” and recognizes that better charting “would improve maritime safety and efficiency” in the region. Nautical charts are essential tools for maritime navigation.
  • Establish vessel traffic lanes. Designating mandatory lanes for ship traffic in the Bering Strait would increase safety and reduce the chance of collisions. It would also help ensure that vessels stay well offshore, providing additional response time in the event that a ship loses propulsion or experiences some other difficulty. Additional response time may prove critical in this remote area.
  • Designate areas to be avoided. As the name implies, designation of areas to be avoided establishes regions of the ocean that are off-limits to ship traffic. In the Bering Strait, strategic designation of Areas to be Avoided would help ensure that vessels steer clear of hazards and areas that may be especially sensitive to impacts from traffic.
  • Enhance communications and reporting systems: Establishing a more robust communication and reporting protocol for the Bering Strait region would facilitate information exchange among the Coast Guard, vessels, and local communities. Some of this information exchange could be accomplished automatically, using the automatic identification systems (AIS) carried by most vessels. Two-way communication could help alert mariners to the presence of marine mammals, subsistence activities, or hazardous ice conditions in the area. Enhanced vessel monitoring could assist with the early identification of vessels in distress and encourage mariners to comply with regulatory requirements.

These are just a few possibilities. Other options are available to enhance safety, limit water and air pollution, and improve response speed and capacity in the event of an accident in the region.

While none of these options is particularly complicated, implementation of regulatory measures in the Bering Strait is made more challenging because of the region’s status as an international strait. For example, that status places limits on the ability of the United States to regulate foreign-flagged vessels transiting the strait. More comprehensive regulation can be achieved through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but the IMO’s processes can take considerable time to unfold.

These challenges make it all the more important to get a head start on addressing the threats of increasing vessel traffic through the Bering Strait. Now is the time to set in motion the measures that will increase safety, reduce environmental risks, and enhance the capacity to respond effectively when something goes wrong.

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Increased Shipping Could Cause Serious Impacts in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/increased-shipping-could-cause-serious-impacts-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/increased-shipping-could-cause-serious-impacts-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 12:30:41 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8327 The Bering Strait—the only marine gateway between Pacific and Arctic oceans—is a key biological hotspot. As this recent blog post explained, the strait hosts an extraordinary abundance of wildlife. Every spring, huge numbers of marine mammals and birds migrate north through the strait on their way to Arctic waters.

In recent years, the Bering Strait has also turned into a hotspot for shipping. As sea ice in the Arctic retreats, vessel traffic is growing steadily. A recent analysis by the U.S. Coast Guard notes that “commercial ventures in the Arctic have increased maritime traffic in the Bering Strait. From 2008 to 2012, traffic through the Bering Strait increased by 118 percent.” Many types of vessels contribute to the growth in maritime traffic. Some of these ships provide supplies to coastal communities, some support oil and gas activities, and some travel between Europe and Asia across the Arctic Ocean on the Northern Sea Route along the Russian Arctic coast.

To be clear, the current level of vessel traffic in the Bering Strait is modest compared to other major shipping corridors, such as the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, or even the Great Circle Route through the Aleutian Islands. At the same time, however, the Bering Strait poses distinct challenges that increase objective risks. These include a remote operating environment, the presence of seasonal sea ice and the relative absence of basic maritime infrastructure and information. A 2012 report by the State of Alaska’s Northern Waters Task Force cited a shortage “of detailed navigational charts, reliable weather forecasting, vessel traffic separation protocols, search and rescue infrastructure, and overall maritime domain awareness.”

There’s no doubt that growth in vessel traffic through the Bering Strait will result in increased impacts. These include higher levels of noise pollution and air emissions, more discharge of pollutants into the water, and increased potential for the introduction of invasive species. These impacts pose threats to the Bering Strait’s fish, birds, marine mammals and human communities. In addition, as the ice-free season lengthens and vessel traffic grows, there is greater potential for ships to strike bowhead whales and other marine mammals as they migrate through the Bering Strait, injuring or killing individual animals.

And then there’s the risk of a major accident resulting in a large spill, such as we have seen in Alaska’s heavily trafficked  Aleutian Islands. As the Coast Guard concluded in its 2013 Arctic Strategy, multiple factors combine to “make the Bering Strait region increasingly vulnerable to maritime casualties,” such as vessel groundings, spills, and collisions. If a marine disaster took place in the Bering Strait during a critical migration period, it could have catastrophic consequences for a large number of individual animals, and it could affect a number of species important to the region’s ecology.

These impacts could also spill over to harm the people who live in Bering Strait communities and depend on the region’s biological resources to support their way of life. The threat of a major oil spill is of particular concern in potentially icy waters, like those of the Bering Strait, because sea ice can significantly reduce the effectiveness of mechanical oil containment and removal technologies.

Given the rapid increase in vessel traffic, the remoteness and lack of infrastructure, the ecological importance of the area and the potential for truly significant impacts to wildlife and people, there is an urgent need to improve maritime safety and environmental protection in the Bering Strait region. Fortunately, a variety of tools are available to help achieve that objective. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post that will identify some of the most promising options.

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Regulation of Shipping in the Warming Arctic is a Hot Topic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/11/regulation-of-shipping-in-the-warming-arctic-is-a-hot-topic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/11/regulation-of-shipping-in-the-warming-arctic-is-a-hot-topic/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 17:43:00 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8040 With 90 percent of the world’s trade being transported across our ocean, it was only a matter of time before the receding sea ice in the Arctic Ocean captured the interest of the shipping industry. Shipping goods through the Northern Sea Route across the Russian Arctic coast, along the fabled Northwest Passage of the Canadian and U.S. Arctic coasts, or straight across the North Pole could save time and money. But at what cost? The Arctic Ocean is far from a safe place for vessels, and the inevitable accidents in this remote and rapidly changing region could devastate the fragile ecosystem. Fortunately, the International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations that regulates global shipping, is developing a mandatory ‘Polar Code’ designed to minimize impacts of the anticipated Arctic shipping boom.

Shipping disrupts fish and wildlife, and some of the impacts are magnified by the unique conditions of the Arctic. For example, greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate disruption, which is disproportionately affecting the Arctic region. Noise pollution disrupts whale migrations around the world, but it is particularly problematic in the Arctic, where bowhead whales migrate through lanes of open water surrounded by ice or ice and land.  These are the exact same lanes that ships will be using, so the noise will be concentrated there. The same logic applies to oil spills, which would be concentrated in important migratory corridors or in nearshore environments, where there are higher concentrations of wildlife. Also, as we’ve discussed here in the past, the Arctic is a remote region with little infrastructure or emergency response equipment.

The new mandatory Polar Code, which will be enforced through amendments to the existing International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), builds on the existing voluntary Guidelines for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, and is scheduled to be finalized and adopted in 2015. The Polar Code will address a wide range of issues, including ship design, construction, equipment, operation, training, search and rescue and environmental protection. The scope of the new regulations is impressive, especially considering that when Ocean Conservancy staff and our partners began working on the Polar Code in 2010, there were no plans to have a chapter dedicated to the protection of the fragile marine environment.

While we are certainly excited that the 170 member states that make up the International Maritime Organization are committed to addressing the consequences of shipping through Arctic waters, much work remains to be done. Ocean Conservancy and our partners feel strongly that the Polar Code should contain additional provisions, including:

  • A ban on the use of heavy fuel oil, which is more toxic than crude oil and is already banned in Antarctica
  • Measures that reduce black carbon emissions, which may cause up to 25 percent of observed global warming by covering Arctic snow and ice with soot and reducing its ability to reflect heat
  • Expanded applications of the Polar Code to sub-Arctic waters with similarly dangerous ice conditions, lack of response infrastructures and fragile ecologies.

The good news is that the International Maritime Organization is taking the environmental impacts of Arctic shipping very seriously. The October 2014 meetings of the Marine Environment Protection Committee, which is tasked with regulating a variety of environmental issues across the globe, will be preceded by a weeklong session to grapple with these issues and ultimately take us one step closer to a robust Polar Code and a better protected healthy Arctic Ocean. Ocean Conservancy will continue to work to ensure that the final Polar Code protects the ecological heritage of this unique and fragile region at the top of the planet.

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Ninety Percent of Everything: a Look Inside Shipping http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/03/ninety-percent-of-everything-a-look-inside-shipping/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/03/ninety-percent-of-everything-a-look-inside-shipping/#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 20:52:19 +0000 Anna Zivian http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6760 container ship at port

Photo: Matt Zimmerman via Flickr

Rose George’s recent book, “Ninety Percent of Everything,” offers an outsider’s look inside an immensely important, but remarkably obscure industry. George is a stranger on a strange sea, but she is able to enter deeply into the world of the shipping industry in a short time.

Her writing is clear, elegant and direct, making even discussions of shipping’s many acronyms and abbreviations—TEUs, UNCLOS, IMO, MARPOL, ECDIS—compelling.

George brings the personal into a world that has grown ever more distant and impersonal. She gains her entry into the closed world of shipping by traveling as a “supernumerary,” a working guest (her book is the work) on the Maersk Kendal.

She also joins a European Union Naval Force vessel, the Vasco de Gama, to see firsthand the international efforts to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden.

Ninety Percent of Everything book coverOn occasion, as with her discussions of piracy, her storytelling becomes almost too personal, and her viewpoint and prejudices become distractions. For the most part, however, her stories bring us to the ocean and remind us that there are people behind the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the computers we rely on—behind 90 percent of everything.

Shipping has transformed radically in the last half century. Ships have become bigger, crews have become smaller and more international, and containers have replaced “breakbulk” shipments, where goods were packed and unloaded singly, in barrels, bags and boxes.

The increasing automation has led to a faster and more solitary lifestyle, and George conveys the changes with clarity and compassion. She describes the dangers, the loneliness, the hardships and the economic struggles of officers and crew alike in a way that draws the reader in and lets us see the hardships behind international trade.

George also devotes a chapter to the hardships shipping can cause on non-humans, particularly whales. There is the obvious danger of ship strikes (although it is not always obvious to the ships, which are so big that they often do not notice if they strike an animal).

There is also the more pervasive problem of noise pollution: With more and more ships, the ocean is becoming increasingly noisy. As George says, “Sound means life for aquatic animals. And now, because of us, it can mean death.”

Both of these problems have some partial fixes. To avoid ship strikes, shifting routes and slowing down can help—and new technology can help captains know where whales are and avoid them. Slower speeds and more efficient propellers, which are quieter, can cut down on noise.

In modern shipping, automation and containers have driven up loading and unloading speeds, meaning that port visits are so short that there is practically no time to leave the ship and see the sights that were historically such a compelling draw for young sailors. Shipping is a difficult, dangerous business.

Despite all this, the sea still has a draw—in some cases, economic, but also more viscerally. George does a remarkable job of translating this ineffable pull by bringing us into the lives of the people she meets and the places she travels.

“Ninety Percent of Everything” combines history, technical information, personal travel stories and mini-biographies into a highly readable and informative book.

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UPDATE: The Ocean in a High CO2 World http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/25/update-the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/25/update-the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/#comments Tue, 25 Jun 2013 17:29:06 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6189 polar bearsPresident Obama’s plan to address climate change is a step in the right direction on the long road toward making real progress in reducing carbon pollution. There is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we are already seeing the impacts. It’s urgent, and we must act now.

The Arctic is experiencing the effects of climate change more than anywhere else, with air temperatures warming about twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Water temperatures are rising and seasonal sea ice is melting at a record-breaking pace.

As we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it, becoming 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. This has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.

There is something we can do about it. The ocean should be at the center of our solutions to the rising threat of carbon pollution. You can learn more about Ocean Conservancy’s work on this issue in my blog, The Ocean in a High CO2 World:

It’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive—it sustains much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us. The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a dynamic equilibrium to ensure that life can thrive.

One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, and in turn, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no uncertainty or doubt about this; it is a simple and eminently replicable chemical process.

Several of the comments posted by our readers on my last blog focused on this growing concern. My answer to those comments is this: overall there is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.

It is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if CO2 concentrations keep increasing under the current “business as usual” scenario. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce calcium carbonate, with immeasurable effect on the entire food chain.

We’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat and on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine. In the weeks and months to come, we at Ocean Conservancy will dive deeper to take a very hard look at carbon pollution. For instance, what impact might the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, have on the ocean? It’s a vitally important question to answer.

At Ocean Conservancy, we understand that the ocean is not just a victim—it must be the part of the solution. The way we manage the ocean and the decisions we make about fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s continued ability to sustain life.

As we explore this critical issue, we will do so from an “ocean-centric” point of view—we must determine what management decisions and policies we can inform and work on with fishermen, shippers, drillers, windmill builders and oceanographers that can transform ocean health.

We would love to hear from you on this.  There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.

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The Ocean in a High CO2 World http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/25/the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/25/the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/#comments Mon, 25 Mar 2013 15:24:13 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5269 Taylor Shellfish worker shucks oysters

Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells as the ocean’s chemistry changes, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.
© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

It’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive—it sustains much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us. The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a dynamic equilibrium to ensure that life can thrive.

One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, and in turn, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no uncertainty or doubt about this; it is a simple and eminently replicable chemical process.

Several of the comments posted by our readers on my last blog focused on this growing concern. My answer to those comments is this: overall there is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.

It is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if CO2 concentrations keep increasing under the current “business as usual” scenario. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce calcium carbonate, with immeasurable effect on the entire food chain.

We’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat and on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine. In the weeks and months to come, we at Ocean Conservancy will dive deeper to take a very hard look at carbon pollution. For instance, what impact might the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, have on the ocean? It’s a vitally important question to answer.

At Ocean Conservancy, we understand that the ocean is not just a victim—it must be the part of the solution. The way we manage the ocean and the decisions we make about fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s continued ability to sustain life.

As we explore this critical issue, we will do so from an “ocean-centric” point of view—we must determine what management decisions and policies we can inform and work on with fishermen, shippers, drillers, windmill builders and oceanographers that can transform ocean health.

We would love to hear from you on this.  There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.

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Smarter Arctic Choices Begin With More Arctic Science http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/21/smarter-arctic-choices-begin-with-more-arctic-science/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/21/smarter-arctic-choices-begin-with-more-arctic-science/#comments Fri, 21 Sep 2012 21:01:48 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3064
Today, Alaska Senator Mark Begich introduced important new legislation that would establish a permanent program to conduct research, monitoring, and observing activities in the Arctic. If passed, Senator Begich’s bill could lead to significant advances in Arctic science that can then be used to support decisions about the management of a region that is crucial not only to the people who live there, but to the world.

Senator Begich’s bill – the Arctic Research, Monitoring, and Observing Act of 2012 – recognizes that the Arctic is undergoing profound changes. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the global average, seasonal sea ice is diminishing rapidly, and there is increased interest in oil exploration, commercial fishing, shipping, and tourism. As the legislation acknowledges, however, lack of integration and coordination among existing Arctic research and science programs has limited our ability to understand the important changes that are taking place in the Arctic. And our understanding of the Arctic marine ecosystem, which provides irreplaceable benefits, is further hampered by a lack of reliable baseline data, critical science gaps, and limited documentation and application/use of traditional knowledge. In addition to urgently needed baseline data and analysis of ecosystem functions in Arctic marine waters, the legislation would enable the gathering of information about subsistence resources and patterns of use in local economies, which are essential to the people and cultures coastal communities in the Arctic.

Senator Begich’s bill takes several steps to address these problems. First, it calls on the U.S. Arctic Research Commission to establish a national Arctic research program plan to help coordinate scientific research activities in the region. Second, it funds a merit-based grant program that will support new scientific research and field-work in the Arctic. Third, the bill provides funding to establish and support long-term ocean observing systems and monitoring programs in the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, and North Pacific.

If these provisions become law and are implemented correctly, they could function as a long-term, integrated science and monitoring program for the Arctic, something that Ocean Conservancy has long advocated. A coordinated research program would help fill important gaps in our knowledge of Arctic ecosystems and identify areas that are especially important to the functioning of the marine ecosystem. Just as important, a long-term monitoring and observing program would help us understand how the region is responding to climate change and industrial development.

This kind of understanding gives policy-makers, decision-makers and stakeholders the knowledge they need to make informed choices about activities such as oil exploration, shipping, and commercial fishing. It can also inform decisions about conservation. For instance, as scientists gain more knowledge about the Arctic marine ecosystem and as they integrate and synthesize that knowledge they will be better able to identify critical areas that should be protected from development activities. And that will help ensure that the Arctic Ocean remains an intact and productive ecosystem well into the future.

Federal agencies are already making management decisions that will have significant impacts on the future of the Arctic Ocean. Americans want those decisions to be based on sound science and to ensure sustainable uses of our ocean resources for this and future generations. The Arctic research, monitoring, and observing activities addressed by Senator Begich’s bill would take an essential step toward that goal.

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