Current shipping and marine vessel traffic in Haida Gwaii pose hazards for the marine environment, including vessel emergencies, loss of cargo, and chemical and oil spills. The Haida Nation is working with others to reduce the likelihood of accidents and to develop emergency response procedures to protect the marine environment and islands ways of life.
Shipping and marine vessel traffic occurs all around Haida Gwaii. Marine traffic includes vessels in “innocent passage” off the west coast following the great circle route, large vessels transiting to and from ports located in Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Stewart, ferry and cruise ship traffic, as well as traffic associated with smaller vessels engaged in local and regional marine activities.
There are a number of hazards to the marine environment posed by current and potentially increasing numbers of vessels in Haida Gwaii waters. Incidental release of oil and other contaminants from ships’ bilges can result in chronic and harmful exposure of marine plants and animals, such as seabirds, to pollutants. There is also the risk of oil spills. In addition, cargo from transport vessels is sometimes lost and may drift ashore. Increasing ocean noise can have negative impacts on marine life, such as whales and other marine mammals.
Haida Gwaii has virtually no capacity to respond effectively to marine emergencies, such as loss and foundering of vessels, loss of cargo, chemical and oil spills. The lack of a coordinated and effective emergency response system was evident in the winter of 2014 when a Russian cargo vessel lost power and drifted within 5.6 miles of the coast of Haida Gwaii. The “lessons learned” from that experience are summarized in a report based on the “Lessons from the Simushir” workshop, hosted by the CHN and held in Skidegate the following spring.
Increasing the ability of local communities to respond to marine emergencies is a high priority for the Haida Nation. The CHN is currently engaged in discussions with the federal and provincial governments on marine shipping issues. The CHN is also leading an initiative with Transport Canada to identify potential Places of Refuge and to develop a Marine Incident Response Strategy for the North West Coast region.
See Sections 6.1 and 6.6 of the Haida Gwaii Marine Plan for additional information about current and potential levels of vessel traffic in Haida Gwaii waters, as well as objectives and strategies to address the risks posed by vessel traffic.