While the maritime industry is one of the biggest industries in the world and has grown exponentially since its inception, it is crucial to ponder at the responsibility that it has towards nature and the planet.
Lately, there is a lot of effort being directed towards this cause. Companies and ports are tightening their stand on pollutants and emissions and the need of the hour, to go ‘green’ is gaining significance across all spectrums.
Recently, Canada imposed a limitation on the speed of vessels to protect the endangered Right Whale species. There exist 78 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. These mammals are at high risk for vessel injury due to their need to come up to the surface. Besides this, there are various other species of marine life that are adversely affected by substandard practices of the shipping industry.
According to WWF Global, the shipping industry endangers and pollutes the marine environment due to the following reasons:
- Transfer of invasive alien species: through ballast water and on ship hulls
- Release of biocides: from toxic chemicals used in antifouling paints
- Dumping of waste: such as garbage and sewage
- Air pollution: through emission of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide
- Physical and other damage: through dropping of anchors, noise and wave disturbances, and striking of whales and other marine mammals
It is important to note that pollutants are not evenly spread across the ocean. They are concentrated in areas with the most shipping activity. Seagrass meadows, wetlands, and mudflats – which are increasingly recognized as fundamental elements of a country’s natural environment and economic resource base are often located near or in maritime port locations. The busier an area becomes, the more it endangers the marine environment around it.
Another major cause for concern and something that is gaining a lot of attention is the noise pollution that is caused by vessels. Researchers are concerned about the effect elevated noise levels have on marine mammal communications, breeding, and general behavior patterns. Many marine animals like the fish (rockfish, herring, san eel, cod, blue whiting etc) show signs of extensive damage to their ears upon exposure to seismic air guns even up to several kilometers. Exposure to noise during embryonic stage increases sensitivity of fish to noise impact, increasing the mortality rates at time of birth and development of genetic anomalies. The migration to new areas not only affects the marine diversity balance but indirectly affects humans too. A decreased catch in many fish species like herring, cod and blue whiting especially in areas susceptible to noise pollution from ships has been noticed. A paper on this by Marine scientist Christopher Clark can be seen here.
International law limits the ability of coastal nations to impose and enforce their own environmental and navigation regulations on foreign ships passing through their waters. Instead, countries must use international conventions established through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
It is essential for sanctions to be put in place and in depth awareness about the area of operations to be generated so that damage and destruction is avoided.
Although this article only scratches the surface of the long lasting dangers that the shipping industry causes to the marine biosphere, it begs for a deeper look at practices and demands an astute awareness of the environment of operations. It is imperative that operators and owners alike become aware of the consequences of their deals and take earnest steps to ensure that the detrimental effects of these are limited.