Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Area to be Avoided Education and Monitoring Program


George Galasso, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

. . . here there is no place to land on from out of the grey water. For without are sharp crags, and round them the wave roars surging, and sheer the smooth rock rises, and the sea is deep thereby, so that in no wise may I find firm foothold and escape my bane, for as I fain would go ashore, the great wave may haply snatch and dash me on the jagged rock -- and a wretched endeavour that would be.
--Homer, The Odyssey

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus is cast adrift and finds himself at the mercy of the elements. Over the years many mariners have found the lee shore of the Olympic Coast, with place names such as Destruction Island and Graveyard of the Giants, their bane. The adoption of the Area to be Avoided (ATBA) off the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was conceived as a buffer to allow help to arrive to adrift vessels along this rocky and environmentally sensitive coast. Despite advances in technology and our best efforts at preventing maritime accidents there will always be a certain amount of risk involved in marine shipping. We must be ever vigilant in improving maritime and environmental safety and seek to avoid that wretched endeavor of a ship breaking up on a lee shore.

A catastrophic discharge of oil or hazardous materials remains one of the greatest threats facing the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Reducing this threat has been one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) highest priorities. The sanctuary, the third largest in the United States, sits at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a major thoroughfare linking the important North American ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver with trading partners all around the Pacific Rim. The juxtaposition of such an important international trade route and a national marine sanctuary requires the balancing of political, social, economic, and natural resource issues. Therefore, policies that enhance resource protection need not impede commerce. Vessel and environmental resource management off the Olympic Coast exemplify how industry and government can work together and how a healthy environment and a healthy economy can go hand in hand.

Just as marine transportation forms a vital economic link for Pacific Rim trade, the sanctuary forms a vital link among resource management agencies, enforcement organizations and the maritime transportation industry. The sanctuary was designated in May 1994. NOAA worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to propose that the International Maritime Organization approve and adopt an ATBA off the Olympic Coast. This ATBA, which went into effect in June 1995, advises operators of vessels carrying petroleum and hazardous materials to maintain a 25-mile buffer from the coast. This distance narrows as the vessel traffic lanes converge at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is important to note that the boundaries of the ATBA and of the sanctuary are not contiguous. National Marine Sanctuaries are not exclusionary areas (e.g., commercial fishing and shipping occur within Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary).

Since the ATBA was adopted, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary has ensured that information on the ATBA was placed on the appropriate nautical charts and publications. In addition, sanctuary staff worked closely with industry and government agencies to develop an education strategy. This effort resulted in the development of an ATBA flyer distributed in 1996 by the Washington State Office of Marine Safety, the Puget Sound Steamship Operators Association, the Marine Exchange of Puget Sound, the Canadian Coast Guard, 13th Coast Guard District's Marine Safety Office Puget Sound (MSO) and Vessel Traffic Service Puget Sound (VTS). A copy of this flyer is also now part of the Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service's Users Manual.

To test a belief that voluntary ATBA provisions were widely accepted by the marine industry, the sanctuary designed a vessel traffic-monitoring program using Canadian Coast Guard radar data. Since February 1998, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and MSO Puget Sound have reviewed a total of 267 plots of tank vessels in the ATBA. Where it was believed that additional education was warranted, these plots were forwarded to owner/operators along with correspondence requesting the owner/operator's voluntary support of the ATBA. This correspondence is sent out under the joint signature of the Captain of the Port and the sanctuary superintendent. Response from the marine industry to the program has been very favorable. In many cases, vessel operators have responded back clarifying that the transits in question were made under ballast, and as such, the recommendations of the ATBA did not apply. In other cases, vessel operators recognized that their vessels had transited the ATBA laden with petroleum or hazardous materials and stated that it was, or would now be, their company's policy to follow the recommendations of the IMO regarding the ATBA. Many of those responding commented on how the correspondence was useful in educating their crews.

To analyze the effectiveness of the ATBA, as well as other vessel traffic patterns in the sanctuary, data were processed and summarized by quarter from July 1995 through September 1999. The data were analyzed by quarter within three areas: total (the entire area of radar coverage), Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (the sanctuary boundary), and the ATBA. The data illustrate differences in where vessels transit, according to vessel type (e.g., fishing vessels, freighters, government/miscellaneous, tank vessels, and tugs/barges). The distribution of vessels in the study area is influenced by vessel routing measures, great circle routes to Asia, coastal shipping routes, military operating areas, and fishing grounds.

Performance indicators have been established and are being tracked. These indicators approximate compliance rates and track the relative effectiveness of the ATBA initiative. An approximation of compliance is necessary because the data set does not include 100 percent of all transits, and information on cargo is incomplete. Three performance indicators were selected. The first performance indicator monitors all vessels transiting the ATBA, as a percentage of those vessels transiting within the sanctuary. This indicator (Vessels in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary also in the ATBA) can be used to determine if, over time, the relative number of vessels transiting the ATBA is changing. The second two performance indicators divide all vessels into two general categories, with non-tank vessels being an approximate measure of vessels for which the ATBA does not apply and tank vessels being an approximate measure of vessels that should stay outside the ATBA. Additional performance measures attempted to allow for the fact that inbound petroleum barges rarely carry product (e.g., these barges are included in the non-tank category).

From July 1995 through September 1999, the number of vessels transiting the ATBA decreased, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of vessels within the boundaries of the sanctuary, also in the ATBA. In the third quarter of 1995 there were 643 transits in the ATBA; of these 86 were tank vessels. In the same period of 1999, there were 511 transits in the ATBA, of which 18 were tank vessels. Representing total vessel transits in the ATBA, as a percentage of those in the sanctuary, the values dropped from 27.1 percent to 20.5 percent within the same period. For tank vessels, the values dropped from 22.6 percent to 4.6 percent in the same period.

Further evaluation of tank vessels within the ATBA illustrates the relative decreases in the different classes of tank vessels in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary ATBA since it went into effect in 1995. The most dramatic decreases are in the coastal and ocean going tanker and barge categories. From July 1995 to September 1999, the monthly total of these vessels in the ATBA in these three categories changed dramatically: coastal and ocean going tankers went from 18 to 1 vessel; tugs with oil and gas barges went from 42 to 12 vessels; and tugs with chemical barges went from 19 to 1 vessel.

While this positive trend is very encouraging, the future effectiveness of the ATBA could be negatively impacted by changes in marine trade (e.g., as new vessels/shipping companies enter the market, it is possible that they may not be aware of the ATBA or the sensitive nature of the sanctuary). Therefore, future improvements in the effectiveness of the ATBA, or at the very least the maintenance of the current effectiveness, will depend upon the continued involvement of vessel traffic managers, industry groups, and the mariners themselves.

In addition to monitoring the effectiveness of the sanctuary ATBA, other uses of these data and methodologies can be applied to other vessel traffic systems and waterways. The utility of displaying vessel traffic data on GIS augments the information provided by experienced operators, vessel masters, and pilots. The ability to analyze spatial and temporal relationships between various classes of vessels in the waterway allows vessel traffic mangers to test and quantify the observations of marine experts. The combination of expert opinion, with the ability to quantify patterns and trends, can be a powerful tool in the evaluation of a waterway and the identification of solutions to user conflicts. These tools along with others, are currently being employed by policy makers to address maritime and environmental safety in the sanctuary and adjacent waterways.

Studies of Washington State's waterways have determined that the three highest risks of accidents in the sanctuary are collision, drift groundings, and powered groundings, in that order. The most likely cause of these accidents are human and organizational error, followed by physical environment and conflicting vessel operations (Volpe, 1997). By routing certain classes of vessels further offshore the ATBA addresses both drift and powered groundings. While the designation of the ATBA has improved maritime and environmental safety within the sanctuary, it is only one means of reducing risk. The sanctuary has been participating in other initiatives reviewing additional measures to improve maritime and environmental safety in the region. The implementation of some of these measures may result in improved ATBA effectiveness.

The implementation of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary ATBA Education and Monitoring Program has been greatly aided by the availability of radar data, and the cooperation of industry and the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard. The sanctuary's efforts to view existing radar data on a GIS system have allowed performance measures to be selected and tracked. Radar data has been evaluated and a positive correlation between educational efforts and the effectiveness of the ATBA has been demonstrated.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary's monitoring program has had additional benefits beyond our outreach efforts and the evaluation of ATBA effectiveness. The sanctuary has been able to contribute to discussions on maritime and environmental safety in the region by providing a more rigorous evaluation of vessel traffic patterns than would be otherwise possible. This program has also demonstrated the value of this type of analysis to vessel traffic managers and to others interested in improving maritime and environmental safety.