Friday, December 9

Maritime traffic also kills

The carcass of a whale in the Bay of Cadiz. / jaro munoz

Environmental groups and some shipping companies propose measures, such as reducing the speed of ships or changing routes, to avoid the thousands of deaths due to collisions of all kinds of species

The data collected confirms that the more vessels and the larger tonnage there are in the seas, the more the collisions of these crews with marine animals, especially whales, increase. If in 1890 there were just over 11,000 shipping companies of more than 100 tons, in 2018 there were more than 94,000, according to a United Nations report. This means, for example, that between 1992 and 2014 alone, maritime traffic has grown by 300%.

Although it is difficult to determine how many marine animals end up dying as a result of these collisions, the NGO Friend of the Sea estimates that each year around 20,000 whales die after being involved in some of these deadly collisions with all types of vessels.

However, one of the problems with these databases is that they focus on collisions between large ships and large whales, when it is known that there are many other smaller species that are also affected by the presence of ships in the sea and who suffer blows that sometimes lead to death.

Endangered Species

research two years ago concluded that there are at least 75 marine species impacted by ship strikes (including smaller whales, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs, manatees, whale sharks, sharks, seals, sea otters, sea turtles, penguins and fish) .

This same study points out that the creation of a database of ship strikes for smaller species can help identify the species most frequently involved in the strikes, delineate high-risk areas and establish species-specific relationships between the speed of the ship and the fatal injuries (as is already done with the whales, through the database of the
International Whaling Commission).

In addition, since any type of vessel, regardless of its size, can collide with a marine animal, many of these incidents (resulting in the death or injury of the animal) may go unnoticed by the crew of the vessel or may not be reported. investigators who track these accidents.

Although they can occur anywhere, there is evidence that those that affect whales usually occur around the areas of greatest commercial maritime traffic. To give you an idea, between 2010 and 2014, 37 whales injured in ship strikes were reported just off the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is also known that collisions with boats are one of the most common causes of sea turtle stranding and that, in the state of Florida alone, between 20 and 30% of stranded turtles have clear symptoms that the injuries they have are have occurred when colliding with a boat.

Marine Route Maps

In order to avoid these accidents, many measures are being taken. Some include the development of specific technology to, for example, prevent ships from colliding with sperm whales in the waters of the Canary Islands.

The environmental organization WWF has also published a
Map in which he collects the marine routes that these animals usually use, after having studied their behavior for more than 30 years thanks to satellite images.

One of the first shipping companies to receive the Friend of the Seas certification for its commitment to the protection of marine fauna in its management.

Although the data refers to the behavior of whales, they are considered ‘umbrella’ species, so they are used as living indicators of the health of their ecosystems.

Knowing the trajectory of the migratory flows of these species can help change the routes of ships to move away from the most conflictive areas and try to reduce possible collisions.

Some shipping companies are beginning to take measures in this direction, despite the fact that since 2014 there is scientific evidence that changing these routes could reduce the number of impacts with marine animals and, therefore, their damage and disappearance.

According to the maps produced by the NGO Friend of the Sea, there are several areas that are especially problematic in this type of collision, including the Mediterranean (and, within it, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Balearic Islands and the Alboran Sea) .

Reduce speed

But, in addition, it is claimed that even more severe limits be imposed on the speed at which the seas can be sailed and that the fines for not respecting these restrictions be more severe (it is estimated that 90% of the vessels exceed the maritime speed limits).

In addition to the benefits in terms of oil consumption and emissions that this reduction in maximum speed may entail, it has been proven that the higher the speed of the boats, the more likely it is to crash.

According to research from this year, the highest probability rate of a fatal injury for a large whale occurs when vessel speeds range between 8.6 and 15 knots, while the possibility of suffering this fatal injury falls by below 0.5 when the speed is 11.8 knots. If the speed exceeds 15 knots, it is almost certain that this fatal injury will occur.

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