By Premila D’Sa, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
The federal government announced a collaboration with several Indigenous communities to address the problem of noise pollution along the Trans Mountain shipping route, which has led to the detriment of marine life in the area, including endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
Transportation Minister Marc Garneau announced Tuesday that the federal government will dispense $2.5 million over three years to help Indigenous communities protect their coastlines as Trans Mountain projects continue.
The funding is part of the Quiet Vessel Initiative, a five-year plan with $26 million pledged to help Indigenous groups affected by the projects.Indigenous communities raised the issue of underwater vessel noise with the federal government during consultations on the Trans Mountain expansion project.
While Trans Mountain itself doesn’t own any tankers (large cargo ships), the expansion led to increased tanker traffic along the commercial shipping route from the Pacific Ocean to Vancouver’s harbour.
The route cuts through the Salish Sea, a marine environment with a delicate ecosystem that runs along southwestern British Columbia and the northwestern part of Washington state in the U.S.Tanker traffic has increased from five per month to about 34 tankers per month, according to Trans Mountain.Coast Salish communities have previously sought meetings with the federal government after noticing the Southern Resident killer whale population was declining
The killer whales have been designated as an endangered species in Canada and the U.S. Their population is directly tied to the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In August 2019, after the death of three whales, their population plunged to only 73, where it remains. The decline has been tied to several factors, including increased noise and boat disturbance, according to the protection agency. These killer whales are also particularly prone to extinction because of a low reproductive rate, according to a report by the Canadian government.
The federal government has launched several killer whale recovery strategies. In a 2018 report, models showed higher levels of noise and disturbance would be enough to slow down population growth and worsen the level of whale decline.
The federal funding announced Tuesday is intended to help Indigenous communities along the coast evaluate “promising” technologies, ship designs, and revise shipping practices to help reduce noise pollution from underwater vessels.
The government provided a list of 29 Indigenous communities that are eligible for funding as part of the initiative. The groups have until Nov. 20 to apply.