Healthy Seas

Vessel Traffic

Photo by Chris Teren

Safe shipping through our waterways is critical to our region’s economy, culture, and environment.

The Salish Sea Vessel Traffic Projections shows 18 proposed expansions or recently completed projects, which cumulatively would add an additional 5,300 annual vessel transits to and from ports in British Columbia and Washington State.

Vessel Traffic in the Salish Sea

The Salish Sea is home to over 8 million people and is one of the world’s largest and most biologically rich inland seas.

Each year 12,400 large vessels, including over 1,322 oil tankers, charge through our fragile waters, past our communities, and through the homes of the 113 threatened and endangered species who call these waters home. Proposals to increase international shipping by 43% would turn the Salish Sea into a tanker highway, posing potentially catastrophic danger.

Between 1995 and 2005 1,462 accidents and 1,159 incidents were reported in Washington State. Of those, 14 were oil spills from tankers, releasing roughly 13,709 gallons of oil.

If all currently proposed projects are permitted, accident frequency would increase by 18%, and oil spill risk increases by 68% in Puget Sound*. In Haro Strait/Boundary Pass, along the San Juan Islands National Monument and in critical habitat for endangered orca whales and Chinook salmon, the threat of an oil spill jumps 375%.

* The Vessel Traffic Risk Assessment by Washington Department of Ecology, 2013

“A major spill would have a significant impact on Washington State’s maritime economy which is worth $30 billion and supports 148,000 jobs.”

US Senator Maria CantwellPress Release, 4/9/2014

Impacts to Marine Life

Vessels have an enormous effect on marine life. Underwater noise, invasive organisms from ballast water, collisions, and oil spills and emissions in the water all negatively impact our fish and wildlife.

Friends and its partners seek to protect marine life by encouraging alternative energy sources, minimizing and removing vessel traffic risks, and advocating for best practices that care for our marine wildlife and preserve our economy.

Impacts to Orca

Orcas rely on echolocation (reflected sound) to communicate, hunt, and navigate. However, ship-caused pollution, noise pollution, and collisions constantly disrupt their ability to thrive. Increased traffic will only exacerbate these issues.

Photo by Mark Gardner

“San Juan County is at the center of existing and proposed fossil fuel export projects. We have much to lose and nothing to gain. Our community needs to stay informed, get involved, and be part of the public process of understanding the approaching changes which will affect us all.”

San Olson, Friends' Board President and former Naval Officer

Our Work

With a broad range of partners and leading science, Friends works to protect the San Juan Island waterways and Salish Sea from increasing vessel traffic risks. Friends:

  • protects our coasts and communities from the amplified threat of oil spill and associated damage;
  • presses for oil spill prevention and advocates for a clean energy future;
  • achieves legal protections;
  • improves habitat management;
  • reduces threats to vulnerable species; and
  • understands the complex interconnections between healthy communities, healthy environments, and healthy economies.
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