Bulk Carrier 'Freighters' Idling Around Salt Spring - Initiative to Reduce Ocean Acidification

Bulk carriers around Salt Spring Island, or also called freighters, are not resting silently when at anchor. Large on-board diesel generators produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases, even if these ships are not moving and their main engine is not turned on.

A new report submitted to the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council estimates that a single bulk carrier produces about 10 tonnes of CO2 and other greenhouse gases per day. Consider how this may cancel out many of our local community efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

For example, one single day of one bulk carrier idling at anchor equals:

  • 10 years of recycling by a family of three;
  • Sacrificing one annual return flight Vancouver-London for 10 years;
  • Driving an electrical vehicle instead of a standard vehicle for 5 years.

But climate heating is not the only issue. CO2 and other gases such as NO2 or SO2 are highly reactive when they come in contact with water and they form an acidic solution. In rainy and misty weather the local effect is greatest when the acid rain drops fall right back into the ocean around the ships.

The flow of water is restricted between our islands. What gets into the water of Ganges Harbour is not leaving easily, but often accumulates at the end near Ganges.

In recent days, two bulk carriers anchored just outside of Ganges Harbour. About 20 tons of CO2 and other gases are released every day. Freighters stay often for weeks. There were over 3000 days of freighters at anchor in the Southern Gulf Islands in 2018. Last week saw record highs of 27 freighters anchored here at the same time, 11 of them around Salt Spring Island.

What does this mean for our water quality? Acidification means trouble. Many organisms suffer effects in the changing ocean water. Larva of oysters, mussels, and clams for example have problems binding calcium to build their growing shells, because more of it will be held tightly by the acid water. Organisms and populations disappear, food webs collapse, the biodiversity around our island decreases.

What can be done? A local initiative of Salt Spring residents is raising awareness about alternatives to having ships idling in our waters, in cooperation with similar groups on other islands.

These ships are mostly exporting grain, and are needed by Prairie farmers to bring their products to worldwide markets. Inefficiencies at port are causing vessel congestions and high economic and environmental costs, including overflow anchoring near Salt Spring Island.

Rainy weather and winter conditions have been quoted as to why loading of cargo ships is delayed in port. The real problem, however, is that the number of arriving ships is not adjusted to port capacity in an efficient manner. The explosive growth in anchorage demand in recent years is not a sustainable way of addressing the issue.

Better infrastructure and logistics at port could help with the flow of goods and prevent delays. Better guiding systems for incoming vessels to slow down when problems arise could save fuel and greenhouse gases. Better management of anchorages at Port Vancouver and better time planning in export contracts of grain could avoid costly congestions.

Although the federal government started to invest into port modernization and an Ocean Protection Plan, the big problem of inefficiencies at port regarding anchorage issues has largely been ignored.

Instead of a solution, we have to expect more congestions and additional anchorage sites with higher use around Salt Spring Island in the future - unless citizens speak up for the environment and our local waters.

See the full report, or join the initiative.

February 14, 2020 7:50 AM

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