Photo of blue whale in the Santa Barbara Channel by John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research

See International Maritime Organization initial strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships, adoped April 13, 2018. See results from the 2017 Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Program, and presentation of results, which included speed-reduction zones in both the Santa Barbara Channel and San Francisco Bay Area regions. Page down to see photos from the March 1 event recognizing the participating shipping companies.

See the Blue Whales & Blue Skies Act, introduced in U.S. Congress Sept. 6, 2017, and view Press Release. Also see new study on ship strikes and whale mortality on the West Coast published August 21, 2017. Contact Mary Byrd for more information on marine shipping initiatives, and to be added to the Marine Shipping Solutions Group email list.

Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies

Eleven global shipping companies slowed transits in 2017 program to protect blue whales and blue skies
Program cuts more than 80 tons of smog-forming emissions

The partners in an initiative to cut air pollution and protect whales announced results from the 2017 program and publicly recognized the 11 shipping companies who participated, reducing speeds to 12 knots or less in two regions. For the first time the program included speed reduction zones in the San Francisco Bay Area in addition to the Santa Barbara Channel region. The voluntary incentive program started July 1 and ended November 15, 2017. The recognition ceremony hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation took place March 1, 2018 at the Bannings Landing Community Center near the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach.

Partner agencies and organizations: Lisa Fasano Bay Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), Jack Broadbent, Executive Officer, BAAQMD, Mary Byrd, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (SBCAPCD), Mike Villegas, Air Pollution Control Officer, Ventura County Air Pollution Control District (VCAPCD), Aeron Arlin Genet, Air Pollution Control Officer, SBCAPCD, Kris Sarri, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), William Douros, West Coast Regional Director, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Lisa Volgenau, Volgenau Foundation, Tyler Harris, VCAPCD, Chris Mobley, Superintendent, NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Michael Murphy, BAAQMD

Eleven shipping companies participated in the 2017 Vessel Speed Reduction incentive program, and were recognized at a March 1 event.  Pictured are representatives from ten of the eleven companies:  CMA CGM; Evergreen; Hamburg Sud, Hapag Lloyd, Hyundai, K Line, Maersk, Matson, MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company); and Yang Ming. Not pictured: NYK Ro-Ro Division.


See a film about our collaborative effort to cut pollution and protect whales in the Santa Barbara Channel region – in English, or in a version with Spanish subtitles, see links below.


Addressing Impacts to Santa Barbara County

picture-this-whaleLarge ships are responsible for substantial amounts of worldwide emissions of black carbon, nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, sulfur, air toxics, greenhouse gases, and substances that deplete ozone in the upper atmosphere. Shipping emissions have been included in District emission inventories since 1994, and the District has been working to raise awareness of the problem and calling for voluntary and regulatory measures to control these emissions. In Santa Barbara County, NOx emissions from ships traveling off our coast are a concern, as NOx emissions are involved in the formation of ozone, and the County does not attain the state ozone standard. A continued focus on marine shipping emissions is also important to ensure the County remains in attainment of the federal ozone standard.

Reducing ship speeds cuts emissions of NOx and other pollutants, and also reduces the risk of fatal ship strikes on whales. The District and partners in 2014 launched a Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) Trial incentive program, modeled after successful programs at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  See 2014 VSR Trial Report. The 2014 Trial was followed by a yearlong effort in 2015 by the Marine Shipping Working Group under the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) Advisory Council to develop strategies to further reduce air pollution and protect whales in the region. The 2014-15 efforts of the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies partnership were recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 with a national Clean Air Excellence Award.  See June 23, 2016 news release from partners, and news releases from EPA Headquarters, EPA Region 9, and Congresswoman Lois Capps.

In its final report to the CINMS Advisory Council, the Working Group expressed unanimous support for a second VSR incentive program, and partners (the District, CINMS, Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and Volgenau Foundation), implemented a 2016 VSR Program running July 1, 2016 – November 15, 2016, see results announced in VSR Brochure.

Also in 2015 and 2016, the District was a client for a Group Project by Masters Students at the University of California at Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. The group presented findings of its study, titled “The Value of Non-Market Goods: Whale Conservation and Human Health Benefits from Vessel Speed Reduction in the Santa Barbara Channel,” in April 2016.  For more information see the project website.


For more information on our Vessel Speed Reduction programs for 2014 and 2016 see VSR Brochure.  The program was honored with a national Clean Air Excellence Award in 2016. In January of 2017 partners in the program recognized the ten participating shipping companies at a meeting of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. See photo below.

Recognition ceremony sponsors and participants (left to right): Steven D. Gaines (National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Trustee, and Dean for UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science & Management), Jessica Morten (with NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, or CINMS), Chris Mobley (CINMS Superintendent), Sean Hastings (CINMS), CT Chen (Evergreen Line), Mary Byrd (with Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, or SBCAPCD), Tyler Harris (with Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, or VCAPCD), Ignacio Rodriguez (K Line), Mike Villegas (VCAPCD Air Pollution Control Officer), Roderick A. Wagoner (MOL America), Aeron Arlin Genet (SBCAPCD Air Pollution Control Officer), Eduardo A. Cestafe (Hapag Lloyd), Lisa Volgenau (Volgenau Foundation), Lyz Hoffman (SBCAPCD), Rose Muller (Starcrest LLC), Naomi Kovacs (representing Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf, an SBCAPCD Board Member), Lauren Volgenau Knapp (Volgenau Foundation)


Additional Links

Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Forum September 2014

Speakers and participants in the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Forum

Speakers and participants in the forum:  (Left to right)   Brad Winney, Conserve.IO (Whale Alert developer), Linda Parks, Ventura County 2nd District Supervisor, Mike Villegas, Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, Dave Van Mullem, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (SBCAPCD), Brian Shafritz, SBCAPCD, Sean Herron, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS), Kristi Birney, Environmental Defense Center, Wayne Miller, UC Riverside, Sean Hastings, CINMS, TL Garrett, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Steve Gaines, UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, Elgin Pallay, Maersk Line, Sharyn Main, Santa Barbara Foundation, Mary Byrd, SBCAPCD, Mike Murray, CINMS

This free forum was sponsored by Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, the Environmental Defense Center, and the UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

See below for more background information.

  • Whale Advisories calling for ships to voluntarily reduce speeds in the Santa Barbara Channel when whales are present are issued periodically by NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
  • The District’s Board receives updates periodically on the program, see January 2017 Presentation, August 2016 Presentation, and March 2016 Presentation.
  • The Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization will leave intact the original 2016 target date for new ship engines to achieve lower NOx limits in the North American Emission Control Area. The District Board submitted a letter calling for the retention of this deadline. See Board memo  and letter.

A September 2013 court decision will leave in place international rules to reduce shipping emissions. See this page for more information.

The District has suggested using AB 32 Cap-and-Trade auction funds to achieve voluntary ship speed reduction off the coast of California. This could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and a range of other pollutants; it could also reduce the fatality of ship strikes on whales. On March 7, 2013, the District submitted a proposal for a vessel speed reduction incentive initiative to the California Air Resources Board, and on April 23, the District submitted a letter calling for inclusion of the initiative in the final Investment Plan. See April 23, 2013 letter, plus letters supporting the idea of a vessel speed reduction initiative from other agencies, businesses, and organizations. Also see original March 7 submittal with Implementation Plan The state FY 2013-2014 budget established that these funds would be loaned to the budget, and not expended in this fiscal year; the District is continuing to explore ways to implement this project.

The District has held a series of  Marine Shipping Solutions Group meetings. A November 8, 2012 meeting featured Bruce Anderson of Starcrest Consulting Group and Carter Atkins of the Port of Los Angeles. See presentation (PDF). See descriptions of previous meetings in the District newsletter featuring whale researcher John Calambokidis in the summer 2012 issue, and Lee Kindberg of Maersk in the winter 2012 issue. To be added to an email list for information about upcoming presentations, email Mary Byrd.

picture-this-whaleThese web pages provide information on emissions from marine shipping and on the District’s activities in this area. Follow the links below, and continue on this page for general information on shipping emissions in Santa Barbara County.

See “Past Activities” link above to see previous District activities calling for regulations in this area. Recently, several regulations have been issued that will reduce these emissions (see “Initiatives” link above). These regulations will bring about significant reductions in several pollutants in the near term; however, NOx reductions will only be achieved in a long-term timeframe. The District’s current focus is to explore ways to achieve more near-term NOx reductions and additional reductions in other pollutants. See “Local Studies & Actions” and “Technologies and Research” links above for more information.

District Contacts

For more information, contact Community Programs Supervisor Mary Byrd.