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Slower ships could help save whales and improve South Coast air quality

Flickr member Anita Ritenour

A pilot program in underway in the Santa Barbara Channel aimed at reducing air pollution and saving migrating whales. The plan calls for large container ships passing through the area to significantly slow down. 

Only a small fraction of the annual shipping traffic through the channel—some 2,500 ships—will be affected by this program initially, but organizers are hoping it will still make a measurable difference.

Several of the world's largest shipping lines are agreeing to take part. They're being paid $2,500 dollars each time a ship passes through the area at the reduced speed of 12 knots or less.

Sean Hastings is with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and says the money is a drop in the bucket for these huge lines.

"The reason they're doing it is because they have the same interests as we do," said Hastings. " We want to keep that commerce going, we want to protect those whales, and we all want to breathe cleaner air. We may have just found a way to do that in a cooperative way, and that's what excites me."

Funding comes from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the local Air Pollution Control District and lasts through the end of October.

“Reducing ship speeds to 12 knots or less reduces emissions of smog-forming air pollutants that harm our health,” said Dave Van Mullem, Director, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District. “We are pleased to be part of this partnership to achieve common goals, and excited about the potential for improving air quality in our county.”

Hastings says there shipping lines have expressed interest in further participation should the project expand in the future.

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