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Ships rerouted to protect marine sanctuaries

Monterey Bay in California is one of three national marine sanctuaries in the state to receive additional protection from large ship traffic  

June 5, 2000
Web posted at: 12:19 p.m. EDT (1619 GMT)

Three national marine sanctuaries along the central California coast will receive more protection from vessel collisions, groundings and hazardous spills under a deal sealed Thursday by the United Nations' International Maritime Organization and U.S. officials to steer large ships farther offshore.

The agreement will also modify routes in and out of major ports.

The new shipping lanes and port routes are primarily designed to improve protection of three significant national marine sanctuaries: Monterey Bay, the Gulf of the Farallones and the Channel Islands.

"This landmark agreement is an excellent example of how NOAA's national marine sanctuaries can be a catalyst to bring agencies, industry and environmental groups together to protect marine resources and ensure the viability of the region's critical shipping industry," said William Daley, U.S. Secretary of Commerce. "This cooperative effort allowed the group to reach consensus on the vessel traffic recommendations and stands as a model for resolving other resource management issues around the country."

More than 4,000 large vessels travel along the central California coast every year, most within 2.5 miles to 15 miles from the shoreline of the Monterey Bay sanctuary. Fuel and cargo aboard the huge ships pose a potential risk of catastrophic spills.

The new lanes are still close enough to the coast to allow rescue tugs to reach vessels in distress, explained Holly Price, water quality director at the MBNMS.

"By routing the vessels farther off the coast, you're less likely to have a spill in the first place," said Price. "Prevention is better than crisis remediation."

The new plan will route large vessels in north-south tracks ranging from 13 to 20 nautical miles (15 to 23 miles) from shore between Big Sur and the San Mateo coastline. Ships carrying hazardous materials such as refined petroleum, chemicals and munitions will follow north-south tracks between 25 and 30 nautical miles (29 to 34.5 miles) from shore.

The new shipping lanes vary according to the size of the vessel  

Tankers will be required to stay at least 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles) offshore. The proposal also extends separation lanes for traffic in the western end of the Santa Barbara Channel and modifies the southernmost approach into San Francisco Bay farther offshore to reduce the risk of grounding.

"These vessel routing initiatives will enhance the safety of navigation along the California coast by increasing order and predictability for vessel traffic patterns," said Rodney Slater, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. "This will reduce the already low risk of collision for vessels navigating in and around the marine sanctuaries."

"Following on the heels of President Clinton's announcement last Friday calling for increasing marine protection, this agreement helps promote safety and protect the California coast for future generations," said Scott Gudes, NOAA's deputy undersecretary of oceans and atmosphere.

The U.N.'s IMO recently signed off on the shipping lane proposal after a two-year collaborative effort led by the Monterey Bay national marine sanctuary and the U.S. Coast Guard.

In response to growing awareness of the value of America's coastal waters, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act in 1972. The act authorized the designation of national marine sanctuaries to protect significant waters, secure habitat for aquatic species, shelter historically significant shipwrecks and other cultural resources, and serve as valuable spots for research, fishing, wildlife viewing, boating and tourism.

Just north of San Francisco, the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary comprises 1,235 square miles of near-shore and offshore waters, ranging from wetlands to deep-sea communities.

In 1980, a portion of the Santa Barbara Channel was given protected status as a marine sanctuary. The Channel Islands sanctuary includes the waters surrounding Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara islands.

The Monterey Bay sanctuary stretches from Marin County to Cambria, California, comprising 276 miles of shoreline and 5,322 square miles of ocean.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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United Nations' International Maritime Organization
Monterey Bay
Gulf of the Farallones
Channel Islands
Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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