Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary - Resource Protection

Shipping Lanes Will Be Adjusted June 1st 2013 to Promote Safety of Navigation and Protect Endangered Whales Along California Coast

new shipping lanes thumbnail Busy shipping lanes off the California coast, including routes that cross four national marine sanctuaries, will be adjusted to protect endangered whales from ship strikes. "This is a win-win situation, backed by NOAA research, that allows for enhanced protection of endangered whales and natural resources while at the same time increasing maritime safety," said William J. Douros, west coast regional director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Download a pdf of the new shipping lanes here. (1.6Mb pdf)

"The collaboration between NOAA and the Coast Guard in reviewing and modifying these vessel traffic separation schemes demonstrates the strong working relationship between our two agencies," said Rear Admiral Karl Schultz, Eleventh Coast Guard district commander. "The modifications to the traffic lanes balance the safe and efficient flow of commerce within and between our nation's ports, with NOAA's goal of reducing whale strikes from vessels."

whale and ship in close proximity Slow-moving whales are highly vulnerable to ship strikes, since many of their feeding and migration areas overlap with shipping lanes. In 2007, four blue whales were killed by confirmed or likely ship strikes in and around the Santa Barbara Channel. In 2010, five whales (two blue, one humpback, and two fin whales) were killed by confirmed ship strikes in the San Francisco area and elsewhere along the north-central California coast.

Extending the three lanes in the approach to San Francisco Bay is expected to reduce co-occurrence of ships and whales within Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries. According to the IMO decision, the lane extensions will improve maritime safety in the area by keeping vessels on a dedicated route through prime fishing grounds, which will reduce interaction between fishing vessels and commercial ships. The proposed vessel lane changes in the Santa Barbara Channel and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary narrow the overall width of the existing northern lane by shifting the inbound lane one nautical mile north. This change will move vessels away from an area used by feeding blue and humpback whales.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is amending the San Francisco Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) effective June 1, 2013. The San Francisco TSS is located within the Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries, as well as, prime commercial fishing grounds. The Coast Guard maintains a Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) in the port of San Francisco and the TSS is located entirely within the VTS coverage area. In effort to enhance navigational safety and mitigate the co-occurrence of endangered marine species with commercial vessel traffic the following TSS adjustments will be made:

  • The TSS amendment will narrow the Northern approach from its flared configuration to a consistent 3 nautical mile (nm) width that will include a 1nm separation zone and two 1nm wide traffic lanes. In addition, the Northern approach will be extended 18.5nm. Lengthening the northern TSS will keep ships on a predictable path in prime fishing areas and concentrate use, thus limiting the area of overlap of ships and endangered marine species. Narrowing the TSS will shift lanes away from an Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) near Point Reyes. Finally, a turn in the Northern lane will keep ships away from Cordell Bank, a destination feeding ground for a variety of species including Blue and Humpback whales.
  • The TSS amendment will narrow the Western approach from its flared configuration to a consistent 3nm overall width which will include a 1nm separation zone and two traffic lanes with a width of 1nm for each lane. In addition, the Western approach will be extended 6nm. Narrowing the TSS will shift the TSS outbound lane away from an ASBS at the Farallon Islands, home to one of the largest seabird colonies in North America. Lengthening the Western TSS will keep ships on a direct course over the edge of the continental shelf, thereby concentrating use and limiting the area of the shelf that is impacted by shipping traffic. This will potentially reduce the risk of whale strikes in areas historically known to have high seasonal whale abundance.
  • The TSS amendment will extend the Southern approach 8.5 nm with no change in traffic lane width or separation zone width. Extending the Southern approach will keep ships on a predictable path in prime, heavily populated, fishing areas. The IMO approved coordinates and graphics depicting the TSS amendments are provided in the enclosures section. In 2007, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries worked to shift shipping lanes in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts. This modification now protects endangered whales in the sanctuary and has reduced the risk of ships striking whales by 81 percent.