Please note that although the incentive VSR program concluded, endangered whales are still present along the California coast. The NOAA and U.S. Coast Guard voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction request remains in effect in the Southern California region through December 15, 2021.
Every year, container ships and auto carriers make thousands of transits in the shipping lanes in the Santa Barbara Channel region and along the California coast. These vessels are a significant source of air pollution and ship strikes on endangered blue, humpback, and fin whales. The Vessel Speed Reduction incentive program is a voluntary program where the District and its partners ask the vessel operators to slow down to a speed of 10 knots or less, which reduces air pollution, fatal strikes on endangered whales, and ocean noise.
2020 Program Results
Sixteen shipping companies slowed to protect blue whales and blue skies, cutting over 700 tons of smog-forming emissions.
The voluntary incentive program, where companies were asked to reduce speeds to 10 knots or less in both the Southern California Region and in the San Francisco Bay Area, started on May 15 and ended on November 15, 2020. For the 2020 season, the VSR zones were greatly expanded by including more navigable waters in Southern California. Even though the incentives remained largely the same, the companies rose to the challenge and slowed their ships down even more than previous years, further reducing air pollution and making the ocean safer and quieter for whales. Five companies earned the coveted sapphire award and nine companies earned the gold award. The Blue Whales and Blue Skies partners appreciate all the effort that these companies have been making, and recognition advertisements will be coordinated throughout the year to celebrate their continued successes.
2019 Program Results
Fifteen shipping companies slowed to protect blue whales and blue skies, reducing more than 530 tons of smog-forming emissions.
The voluntary incentive program, where companies were asked to reduce speeds to 10 knots or less in both the Santa Barbara Channel Region and in the San Francisco Bay Area, started on May 15 and ended on November 15, 2019. See news release issued May 19, 2020. Although COVID-19 public health guidelines prevented an in-person awards event, the companies received trophies, plaques, and certificates according to their levels of achievement. Shown below are the whale tail statues for the four Sapphire companies – MSC, Hapag-Lloyd, Polynesia Line, and GALI – and the plaques for the seven Gold companies – COSCO, NYK Ro-Ro, Evergreen, Maersk, “K” Line, PIL, and CMA CGM.
Success of the VSR Program Throughout the Years
For a comparison on how the program has been growing throughout the years, please see the table below.
- May 2021 Presentation to the District Board on the 2020 VSR results.
- Whale Safe website that shows vessel transit and whale data in the Southern California Region.
- NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary issues additional advisories when whales are present for ALL ships (300 gross registered tons or larger) to reduce speeds to 10 knots or less.
- 2017 study on ship strikes and whale mortality on the West Coast.
- In recognition of this program’s success, California State Senator Scott Wiener included VSR in California Senate Bill 69, which would have directed the California Air Resources Board to develop a similar voluntary VSR program in coordination with affected air districts and the national marine sanctuaries.
- International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2018 strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships.