Industry Issues

Marine Life and Habitats

In addition to its on-going efforts to meet the challenges of air quality improvement and vessel discharges, the WSC is working on behalf of its member companies on other areas of environmental improvement and the protection of marine life and habitats.

Marine Mammals and Cetaceans

Marine mammals and cetaceans include approximately 78 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Some species occupy areas of the ocean and exhibit behavior such as spending considerable time at the surface that makes them especially vulnerable to injury by vessel traffic. To help protect these species the International Maritime Organization has developed guidelines to help vessel operators avoid waters frequented by especially vulnerable species as well as other measures to avoid striking whales and other cetaceans.

Many marine mammals were intensively hunted over the past two centuries. Commercial hunting, combined with other stresses, has lead to severely reduced populations of many species of whales. This is especially true for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) whose population in the Atlantic Ocean is estimated to be approximately 300 individuals. Recent studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offer encouraging news as they indicate that the North Atlantic Right Whale population is increasing. Learn more

Marine Noise

As the world's oceans have been subjected to higher levels of exploration and use, including increasing ship traffic, concern has grown about the effect these activities have in raising the ambient level of noise in the marine environment. More specifically, researchers are concerned about the effect elevated noise levels have on marine mammal communications, breeding, and general behavior patterns. To help evaluate these concerns and to develop measures to help lessen noise generated by maritime traffic the World Shipping Council is working with the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other interested parties.

Marine Protected Areas

To afford greater protection to specific marine ecosystems a variety of legal mechanisms have been put in place to limit activities in specific designated areas of the marine environment. At the international level, the International Maritime Organization has established Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) that are subject to unique measures that have been prescribed for protection of the area. PSSAs have been established for the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago (Cuba), Malpelo Island (Colombia), the Florida Keys (USA), the Wadden Sea (Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands), Paracas National Reserve (Peru), Western European Waters, the Torres Strait (Australia and Papua New Guinea), the Canary Islands (Spain), the Galapagos Archipelago (Ecuador), the Baltic Sea, and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (USA). To learn more, visit and select Marine Environment, Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas.

Some national governments (such as Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others) have also established national programs for establishing marine protected areas. The United States National Marine Sanctuary System consists of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 150,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. Typically U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries allow commercial vessels to transit through Sanctuary waters but prohibit the discharge of untreated sewage and graywater. Learn more about from NOAA about U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs harbor a tremendous diversity of marine species, serve to protect otherwise fragile coastal areas, and support economic activities that are critical to numerous economies around the world. Coral reefs are also undergoing severe decline as the result of sedimentation, excess nutrient loads, warming temperatures, and other stresses. To help stem the decline of reef systems across the world the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is a partnership among governments, international organizations, and non-government organizations, which seeks to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems. Learn more from ICRI.

North Atlantic Right Whales

Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale populations spend considerable time in specific areas along the northeast and southeast coastlines of the United States and migrate along the mid-Atlantic on a seasonal basis. To reduce risk of death or injury to the animals by ship strikes, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has established seasonal speed restrictions on commercial vessels entering and departing most of the major U.S. East Coast ports.WSC did not believe that the scientific evidence justified the imposition of the current 10-knot season speed limit regulation and expressed that belief in its comments submitted to the NMFS on the proposed regulation. Nevertheless, new regulations were put into effect and more information about the vessel speed reduction program is available from the NMFS.

The World Shipping Council and its member companies continue to work with the government to find ways to better protect these endangered whales. For example, NMFS has worked with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish Areas to be Avoided (ATBAs) and with the U.S. Coast Guard to design traffic separation schemes to reduce the threat of vessel collisions with right whales. In addition, WSC has encouraged NMFS to expand survey activity on the East Coast and explore technology solutions to further protect the North Atlantic right whale population. With better knowledge about the location of the whales, ships can avoid transiting those areas with known whale activity.