The Vancouver Island area is composed of many small island and inlets, and is an ideal area for marine life. The Strait of Georgia and the Haro Strait have many cetacean sightings all year round, and are known to be impacted by commercial vessel traffic. Multi-criteria evaluation is used in this study to calculate the risk associated with existing commercial shipping routes and to generate alternative routes where they are more appropriate. The overall purpose of this study was to reduce the anthropogenic impacts from water-based transportation on marine mammals in confined small channel and island areas. The aim was to develop a GIS model that would accommodate all environmental factors and human pressures that there is data available for. The model’s second component was to generate tourism and research routes, based on the appropriate weightings that would increase the likelihood of sightings while still avoiding the high risk areas.
For the specific study site in this project the large and recreational vessel route density was compared with the densest areas of cetacean species, specifically focusing on threatened species. Based on this comparison the areas of overlap were highlighted in a raster layer outputted by the MCE and the least cost pathway tool, which created new “best routes” for shipping as well as for tourism. The vessels that are of greatest risk to the animals are the large commercial ships that frequently enter the Strait of Georgia to access ports that mainly send out oil products, along with other exports. The Port of Vancouver, being the third largest port in North America, is a primary export location for Canadian oil and draws in thousands of vessels yearly. The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline has recently proposed an extension to add a second pipeline paralleling the existing one, potentially doubling the current vessel traffic to the area, increasing the need for safer shipping routes. The best “new” route for shipping proposed by the model was from the Port of Vancouver to Victoria. This was due to the significant reduction in medium and high risk cells, as well as the total length of the route was only increased by two kilometers, allowing it to remain economically feasible for shipping companies. The marine tourism routes developed by the model were made with the intention to increase the likelihood of a sighting, while still avoiding the areas with large numbers of threatened species. This is why the Prince of Wales tourism route is recommended to travel away from shore before travelling up the coast.
In conclusion, the next steps in this study would be to implement one of the best shipping routes and one of the best tourism routes and investigate if they are successful in their application. If there are incidents between marine mammals and vessels on the shipping route, and if there are increased average sightings and marine mammal activity on the tourism boat then the routes can be deemed successful. The future hope for this model, if successful in application, is that it will be applied to other areas of the world with high shipping density and cetacean presence with available sightings data.
The individuals involved in this project would like to sincerely thank the Wild Ocean Whale Society, especially Eric Schwartz the GIS data technician. This non-profit organization provided the marine mammal sightings data for this study. Through excellent communication and a personal interview, the researchers involved in this project were able to gather the necessary data for the correct years, ask questions and gather some input and ideas from a local researcher in the Vancouver Island area. Without the Wild Ocean Whale Society sightings data bank this research and analysis would not be possible.