Ships slow down for blue whales and blue skies
Since 2014, the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies program has worked to protect endangered whales and reduce air pollution along the California coast. It does this by encouraging ships to reduce their speed to 10 knots or less when passing through designated Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) zones.
The initiative is co-led by 12 partners, including the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. He recently shared the results of his 2020 season and recognized the participants, which consisted of 16 global companies and a total of 483 vessels.
Aeron Arlin Genet of Santa Barbara County Air Pollution congratulated the participating companies, many of which were returns to the program. “Their voluntary efforts to slow down their ships have resulted in significant benefits for air quality and endangered whales,” he said. “This program continues to show that great things can happen when local, state, national and international organizations work together. “
As the program grows, the environmental benefits also increase. Last year, participants slowed down their ships in the Santa Barbara Canal VSR area for 59% of total miles traveled, up from 21% in 2017. And of the roughly 300,000 miles covered by all cargo ships in the program, over 181,000 miles have been covered at 10 knots or less.
Additionally, the initiative’s VSR zones have been expanded to include a new region of southern California, stretching from Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County to the waters around Dana Point in Orange County.
The program lasts from May to November, which is the peak migration and feeding season of endangered whales. The 10 knot benchmark supports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) request to slow ships of 300 gross tons or more during these months, with the goal of reducing the number of ship collisions, collisions between a ship and a marine animal which often result in injury or death. Thanks to the program’s efforts in 2020, ship strikes against whales decreased by 61% in the San Francisco area and by 30% in the Southern California area.
In addition, the duration of the program overlaps with the season when smog levels are generally high. Ships produce more than 200 tons per day of the smog-generating nitrogen oxides, NOx, emitted off the coast of California, which in turn affects ozone levels statewide. When ships sail at 10 knots or less, they consume less fuel and produce less pollution. In 2020, the program reduced emissions by 748 tonnes of NOx and 24,258 tonnes of greenhouse gases.
The organization incentive is fleet-based and increases as more and more of a company’s vessels reduce their speed to the target of 10 knots. There are three levels of rewards; Sapphire, in which 75 to 100% of the total distance of the fleet was covered at 10 knots or less, Gold, in which 50 to 74% was covered at 10 knots or less, and Blue Sky, in which 25 to 49 % were covered at 10 knots. knots or less. Gold and Sapphire tier companies receive a financial incentive ranging from $ 2,000 to $ 30,000. In 2020, 7 of these companies – of which 6 were at the Gold level and 1 at the Sapphire level – declined their financial reward. The money in turn will be used to fund the 2021 program, which is currently underway.
Lisa Volgenau of the Volgenau Foundation, one of the partners in the program, paid tribute to companies who have refused their incentives in a recent statement. “We hope that many more will follow through on their commitment to dramatically improve the health of the oceans and humans for future generations,” she said.
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