Habitat Stewardship: Encouraging Vessel Compliance

In 2008, Roseway Basin, an important right whale habitat area off south Nova Scotia, was designated as navigational Area To Be Avoided (ATBA) for all vessel of 300 gross tonnage and upwards.

This ship routing measure, adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2007 and implemented by the Government of Canada in 2008, is estimated to have the potential to reduce the risk of vessel strikes on right whales by 80%. The Roseway Basin ATBA is recommendatory (voluntary), and therefore the level of protection afforded to right whales will depend on the degree of compliance offered by mariners themselves.

We are working with Dalhousie University colleagues to track vessel movements and determine the degree of vessel compliance. In the first two years, we found 70-80% compliance, illustrating a willingness of mariners to alter their course to protect a species. However, some vessels – notably cruise ships – were still sailing through the ATBA. We sent letters to all vessel operators transiting the region south of Nova Scotia to either; thank and compliment them for their compliance... or to point out that 80 per cent of their colleagues had already diverted their route around the ATBA with minimal impact on their voyage transit time and asking them to do the same. This program has been effective; vessel compliance averages about 84%. Professional mariners can take great pride in knowing they made a difference to this endangered species. It's really clear the shipping industry is willing and able to respond. We are now working on further outreach and education programs to increase compliance and awareness of right whales in Atlantic Canadian waters.