The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is a first-of-its-kind program developed and led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to better understand and reduce the impacts of commercial shipping on at-risk whales off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.
The ECHO Program brings together more than 100 partners and advisors from the Canadian and U.S. governments, the marine transportation industry, environmental groups, and Indigenous communities. The program develops initiatives to quantifiably reduce underwater noise in the habitat of southern resident killer whales, which are an endangered species of significant cultural importance.
To create a quieter underwater environment for these whales, the ECHO Program has encouraged more than 80 different shipping organizations to either slow down or stay distanced within the foraging areas of southern resident killer whales. These initiatives span across approximately 74 nautical miles of the Salish Sea and run for up to five months at a time, depending on whale presence.
While participation is voluntary, more than 80% of all commercial vessels transiting through the port authority’s waters participated in the program’s most recent seasonal initiatives. As a result of these high participation rates, underwater noise intensity was reduced by up to 50% in key southern resident killer whale foraging areas in 2020.
Beyond underwater noise reduction initiatives, the ECHO Program also leads international research and education efforts to grow understanding of underwater noise impacts on marine life and encourage the design and adoption of quieter ships. To this end, the program is working with ship classification societies across the globe to align the measurement of underwater noise towards the long-term goal of helping ports more uniformly incentivize ‘quiet’ ships.
Now in its seventh year, the ECHO program demonstrates the power of a collaborative, port authority-led approach to reducing threats to endangered species in our oceans.