James Fawcett from the USC Sea Grant Program at USC Dornsife describes how the line off the coast of ships waiting to load goods is creating a negative impact on the environment. [5 min read]
These cargo ships, which are similar to those seen off the California coast, can be found in the area. They have a negative impact on the local environment. (Image Source: iStock.)
James Fawcett has a passion for shipping.
His decades-long career includes service in the U.S. Navy as a ship pilot and communications officer, plus a decade as a port manager and chief of planning for Los Angeles County’s Department of Beaches and Harbors.
He has spent the last 25 years with USC Sea Grant, a part of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, where he serves as the program’s extension lead and marine transportation and seaport specialist. In both of these roles, he acts as a link between campus researchers and the marine transportation industry, the government, and public on seaport operations, management, movement, and environmental impacts of this industry on Southern California, and the nation.
He is also adjunct professor of environment studies at USC Dornsife, and has a joint appointment at The USC Sol Price School of Public PolicyTeaching marine environmental policy and coastal management.
In light of the shipping topics reaching the news in recent months, including the stalled supply chain, overpopulated ports and record numbers of idling ships off Southern California’s coast, Fawcett answered questions about this current situation and how it may be impacting our local environment.
Because of the backlog in goods movement at the ports, the Ports of Los Angeles & Long Beach have been featured in the media recently. What should the general public know about the backup
These two ports are the busiest in the U.S. for container shipping and are served by many shipping firms, many of which are international owned. It is important that you remember that backup is an option. systemThe problem is most apparent at the ports, but it involves multiple contributing subsystems: railroads, trucking, and warehousing. The backup is a problem in the U.S. as well as overseas. In other words, our two ports aren’t necessarily the cause of the problem; the congestion is just more visible there. And, once the system gets out of whack as it has this past year, it takes time for it to recover back to normal across the world.
What’s the most prominent environmental impact of this congestion?
Maritime shipping is highly regulated. There are rules that govern acceptable fuels around the world. These rules are even stricter within 200 miles of the North American coastline. Modern container ships are propelled using diesel engines, which burn petroleum-based gasoline and emit hydrocarbons to the atmosphere. The most significant environmental impact is the reduction in air quality. This is especially true in Southern California where the prevailing wind is from the West, which causes air pollution to become trapped in our air basin.
This topic has been a priority for the region for over 50 years. We have worked together to reduce air pollution from all sources, including cars and industrial processes. Our air is cleaner and the government is more concerned about maritime-generated pollution and its effects on the environment.
Can ports do anything to reduce air pollution?
Yes, they have.
In 2006, the ports formed the joint Clean Air Action Plan. It includes a number of features such as requiring all trucks that serve ports to be replaced with newer models, or their engines replaced with ones that meet the EPA 2007 emission standards.
As another measure, both ports are electrifying their berths to enable ships to completely shut down their engines and use electricity generated by utility companies, which is much cleaner and more efficient than the ships’ own diesel powerplants.
In a third dimension, ships approaching the ports between the central California coast and the Mexican border are tracked by the Vessel Traffic Service of the Marine Exchange of Southern California. To help reduce emissions, incentives programs are in effect. Ports may offer discounts on docking fees for ships that reduce their speed by 40 nautical miles from their ports entrances. You may also receive a discount if you slow down to 20 nautical miles from the entrances.
How can shipping be managed to reduce other environmental impacts?
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) began implementing the terms of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution at Sea in 1973 and 1978. MARPOL 73/78To reduce ocean pollution. It regulates six issues, or “Annexes”: 1) pollution from oil; 2) pollution from poisonous liquid substances in bulk; 3) pollution from harmful substances carried at sea in packaged form; 4) pollution from ship-generated sewage; 5) garbage pollution generated by ships; and 6) air pollution generated by burning maritime fuels.
The U.S. signed an agreement to Annexes 1, 3, 5, and 6. All ships entering any seaport of any country that is a signatory of MARPOL (which covers approximately 150 nations) must be able show compliance with the convention. Annex 5 garbage, for example, must be kept onboard till it reaches port. Then it should be disposed at a suitable receiving station.
What can the general public do to reduce marine traffic pollution?
First, don’t throw garbage overboard when sailing for pleasure. Importantly, remember that everything that is thrown out of the street in our oceanside area (which includes the entire Los Angeles metro region) will end up in a storm drainage that eventually empties into ocean. Plastic debris can last for decades, if it is not already.
Another way the public can get involved is by reading USC Sea Grant’s Ship’s Log online series to stay educated and up to date about shipping topics that are relevant along our coast.
The positive effects of millions of small-scale initiatives can have a tremendous impact on the health of our coastline waters.