Banner Photo: A B.C. ferry travelling within Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound. (Credit: Bob Turner)

2020 Rating

2020 Rationale

The volume of large vessel traffic has not changed significantly. However, not all shipping traffic is represented. Risks from vessel traffic continue. Future development may increase vessel numbers. Efforts are being taken to decrease impacts on cetaceans.

2017 Rating

2017 Rationale

BC Ferries accounts for nearly 75 percent of large vessel marine traffic on Howe Sound. Several proposed and approved industrial activities, such as an LNG plant, could lead to a marked increase in shipping traffic in the Sound in the coming years. With an increase in potential conflict with boats, recreation, and marine life, it will be important to understand the risks and consequences.

The following is an excerpt from the full updated article. Download the full 2020 article for all content and references.

Large Vessel Traffic: making waves and noise

Author: Jennifer Chapman, Research Assistant, Ocean Watch, Ocean Wise Research Institute 
Reviewer: Leslie James, Director, Environment and Sustainability Safety, Health and Environment, British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.

Excerpt from 2020 article

Large vessels (i.e.,  Large vessels – vessels over 20 m length) within Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound tend to be comprised mostly of ferries, tugs and cargo ships. The volume of large vessels in the Sound presents certain challenges.

Read the full article to see what else is happening.

Background: Ship docked at Squamish Terminals. (Credit: Bob Turner)

What’s been done since 2017?

The table below reports on progress made on recommended actions from the previous 2017 article, where identified. Many of these require ongoing action.

2017 Action Action Taken
Organization actions / Government Action and Policy*
(from Individual and Organization actions) If on a large vessel or transiting near large vessels, ensure you are familiar with best practices for transiting by wildlife, response to pollution, and emergency response. (from Government actions/policy)
Provide large vessel operators/pilots with on-board cetacean resources that include the distribution of species in the area, and how to safely transit when cetaceans are observed (e.g., The Mariner’s Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises of B.C.). Create an alert system to notify large vessel operators via AIS when cetaceans are observed in the area (e.g., using real-time verified reports from the BC Cetacean Sightings
Network, or a similar data source).

The following applies to the three actions listed on the left. New regulations as of 2019 outline safe transit distances from cetaceans:

  • Boats must stay 400 m away from orcas or killer whales in southernresident killer whale critical habitat.
  • Boats must stay 200 m away from killer whales in other B.C. waters.
  • Boats must stay 100 m from all other cetaceans (e.g., humpback whales, harbor porpoises) in B.C. waters.
  • Whales in our Waters Tutorial (see Resources).
  • Whale Report Alert System (WRAS) is a mobile and desktop-based

program which alerts commercial mariners to the presence of whales, enabling them to take adaptive management measures (slowing down, diverting course, etc.) to reduce the risk of disturbance and collision.

Continue to support and grow the Marine Mammal Response Network to offer guidance on what to do in the event that a cetacean is struck by a vessel, or observed in distress. Failing to report striking a cetacean is a chargeable offense. Reports of marine mammal incident or sighting can be made to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). mammals-mammiferes/report-rapport/page01-eng.html
Empower local communities by ensuring they are educated on the proper action in the event of an oil spill. Provide the required resources (e.g., equipment and training) for these communities to safely respond and assist in the event of a spill. Members of the public should not respond to a spill unless they have received appropriate training. There is now a pollution response vessel available to help stationed at the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.1 Additionally, the marine spill response organization, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, has a Vancouver response base and an equipment cache on the Sunshine Coast. Further caches can be created by communities contacting [email protected].
Increase monitoring of marine pollution produced from large vessels, and enforce penalties for preventable pollution. The National Aerial Surveillance Program has a Marine Aerial Reconnaissance Team that conducts flyovers searching for oil spills/ dumping. htm The number of flights being conducted has increased, and in 2018-2019 the hours flown set a record.2
Incentivize slower transits within Howe Sound and the Vancouver area to aid environmental protection (by decreasing emissions, whale-shipstrike risk, and noise pollution). Voluntary slowdowns have been implemented in areas of the Haro Strait and Boundary Pass beyond Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound’s waters. The summer 2019 trial of this voluntary slowdown had an 82% participation rate. The noise reduction results from this trial will be released in spring 2020. https://www.portvancouver. com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/2019-11-28-ECHO-Programparticipant-update-11.pdf EcoAction-Program-Brochure-Online-v%C6%92-2019_FINALlrg.pdf Underwater noise in Burrard Inlet is currently being monitored. echo-program/projects/ EcoAction, a long-running program coordinated by the Port of Vancouver, offers reduced harbour fees for ships that meet nonrequired environmental best practices. Recently, criteria for underwater noise has been included.

*Actions were previously suggested for government action and policy; however, in some cases these actions have been taken by organizations.Vancouver Sun. “We’re Back”: Kits Coast Guard Base officially reopens. Available from: were-back-kits-coast-guard-base-officially-reopens 2Transport Canada. Government of Canada is increasing its eyes in the sky with a new aircraft for its marine surveillance program [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 Apr 7]. Available from: https://www.

What can you do?

A detailed overview of recommended actions relating to climate change is included in The path to zero carbon municipalities. In some cases, no progress was identified on previous recommended actions; these remain listed below. Additional actions marked as NEW also follow.

action-individual Individual and Organization Actions:

    • Reduce your consumption of goods or consider shifting to locally produced products to reduce your footprint and the need for shipping.
    • Educate yourself on the pattern, trend and function of large vessel traffic in Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound, and any potential threats.
    • As a vessel operator (commercial, recreational including human powered) ensure you are familiar with best practices for transiting by wildlife, response to pollution, and emergency response.
    • If you operate a terminal, port, marina or shipyard, develop an oil spill contingency plan for your site and have easily accessible spill response material available.
    • NEW Shipping operators consider implementing sustainable procurement policies.

action-governmentGovernment Action and Policy:

    • Ensure proposed developments have a thorough public consultation period, and ensure Citizen Science data and citizen scientists are consulted extensively for all development decisions.
    • Monitor and enforce the safe condition of vessels transiting the coast in addition to vessels coming from elsewhere.
    • Explore the possibility of implementing a Traffic Separation Scheme in Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound.
    • Explore the need for a policy related to shipping activities in the vicinity of sensitive marine habitats (e.g., productive estuaries).
    • NEW Increase outreach and education opportunities to the public, industry and stakeholders
    • NEW Engage First Nations and incorporate traditional use and Traditional Knowledge into area-use planning
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