By R. Bruce Striegler

Increasingly, ports across the world are taking on the issues of environmental stewardship and looking at sustainability as key to their futures. Port of Prince Rupert became the first west coast port to join the Green Marine environmental program in 2010. Green Marine is a joint Canada-U.S. initiative aimed at advancing environmental excellence in the marine industry, throughout North America. The certification program emphasizes voluntary improvement of environmental performance in key areas identified by the marine industry which include water and land pollution prevention – cargo residues and oily waters, to control greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. The program takes into account community impacts such as noise, dust, light and odours as well as controlling aquatic invasive species. Participants evaluate their performance against guidelines and criteria provided by Green Marine; the results are published annually and verified by an independent third party.

Safeguarding marine mammals but rewarding sustainable shipping

The Port engages actively in a range of environmental programs which include a marine mammal program, launched in 2015 whose aim is to sustain the diverse populations of whales, porpoises and dolphins found in the waters off the port. Members of the Port Environmental Stewardship Committee and the Marine Mammal Program are focused on reducing potential impacts to marine mammals as the port continues to be a gateway for global maritime trade. Additionally, the Port has developed the Mariner’s Guide to Whale’s Dolphins and Porpoises of Western Canada, through a partnership and collaboration between Port of Vancouver, Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute and Fisheries and Oceans. The publication is to help mariners reduce the risk of striking a cetacean, and includes location densities and simple measures to greatly reduce the chance of an incident. Information in the guide also addressed minimizing vessel disturbance and vessel noise. Marine mammal identification is included as well as details on reporting sightings, and the guide is distributed to vessel operators whose ships call at the port.

Introduced in 2013, Prince Rupert Port Authority launched the Green Wave program, designed to encourage shippers to follow sustainable practices. The program offers discounted harbour dues to commercial vessels that implement emission reduction measures or other environmental practices. The program includes a variety of qualification standards for arriving commercial vessels consistent across the global shipping industry. This allows the Port to help accelerate a worldwide movement toward greater efficiency and sustainability. Green Wave incorporates a number of mechanisms for incentives, which include Environ­mental Ship Index, Green Marine, RightShip, Green Award, Clean Shipping Index, and Energy Efficiency Design Index, as well as multiple underwater noise notations. Using a three-tier criteria system, vessels are scored for their level of achievement in one of the recognized environmental programs or technological advancements, and awarded a discount on their harbour dues.

The Port’s Marine Environmental Water Quality program measures and monitors the state of the water in the Prince Rupert harbour. Staff collect water samples four times a year, from 32 sites throughout in the inner and outer harbour, representing a full range of port operations. The samples are shipped to labs where they are analyzed to determine their general properties, as well as the presence of metals, nutrients, algae, bacteria and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). The testing provides Port environmental staff with water quality information to determine low levels of oxygen or high levels of heavy metals such as mercury, and enable them to take remedial action if required. The port patrol boat, Charles Hays, also measures temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, dissolved solids, salinity and pH levels at each site every two weeks. Measurements are taken at depth profiles of one-metre intervals, and are used to see how water quality changes at various depths, and help build baseline water quality data. The high frequency of testing ensures the Port is able to recognize and respond to potential marine pollution incidents in a timely manner.

Programs to monitor air quality, dust and noise

Measurement and monitoring of particulate levels are important tool in managing air quality and dust. Using an active monitoring system which draws air in and measures the concentrations of inhaled particles (PM10 and PM2.5), the Port maintains watch in the Westview Terminal area on a continuous and constantly measured basis. Much particulate matter originates from outside the local area, and can be significantly influenced by short-term events. Directly attributing a source to particulate is a complex issue, and requires longer periods of time to establish meaningful levels. This involves other monitoring tools such as dustfall sampling, visual inspections and neighbourhood feedback. The Port supplements the particulate monitors with eight dustfall stations at the Westview terminal site boundaries. Dustfall is monitored through the use of canisters that collect dustfall over periods of time and can be both measured and analyzed for its composition when required. The standard monitoring period is one month, and spot samples are collected on an ad hoc basis.

Noise is monitored through the use of sensitive equipment that measures decibels and enables audio recordings of the surrounding area. The data readings are continuous and constantly measured (i.e. real-time), and the data is transmitted directly to the Port. The audio recordings allow for the identification of the many noise sources that are not terminal-related, including trains and railyard activity, overhead float planes, passing vehicles, birds and wildlife, etc. Given the subjective nature of its impact as an annoyance or nuisance, neighbourhood feedback is a very important monitoring supplement to this equipment. Given the vague nature of defining noise, its specific regulation is generally limited to consumer products and occupational standards in Canada. The Port has adopted 55 decibels as a baseline against which to manage noise related to terminal activities and their impact on residential areas.

Managing shoreline protection and reducing carbon emissions

Shoreline habitats are unique, and greatly influenced by tidal patterns, neighbouring estuaries, wetlands, and human uses. Every shoreline habitat supports a great diversity of life, and while many thrive, some demand attention, requiring monitoring of human impact so as to not affect the abundance of life found there. ShoreZone is the program the Port employs, and working with key partners, documents existing shoreline habitats around Prince Rupert, the Tsimshian peninsula and the Skeena River using very high-resolution aerial imagery. Photographs and videos of hundreds of kilometres of shoreline have been taken while flying several hundred feet over the ground, and are spatially referenced by a global positioning system so that accurate latitude and longitude information can be determined for any location in the photo. Lastly, the images are stitched together to create a coastal survey map. This program is repeated on a cycle subject to the amount of change that is caused by human or natural forces.

In addition to monitoring, this information can also be critical to respond to natural and manmade disasters. The data in these photos can provide emergency and coastal managers with information needed to assess damage, but also to develop recovery strategies, facilitate search and rescue efforts, and identify hazards to navigation and hazardous material spills. The ShoreZone Imaging Survey was funded by Prince Rupert Port Authority, Pacific Northwest LNG, Aurora LNG, the Gitxaala Nation, the Metlakatla First Nation, the Nisga’a First Nation, as well as BC Ministry of Environment.

Managing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions completes the robust environmental program at the Port. When CO2 is released into the atmosphere it remains there until it is absorbed in some form – primarily by the ocean, soil, animals and plants. However, evidence suggests that CO2 is being released at a faster rate than nature can absorb it, causing an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere. This process is commonly known as the “greenhouse effect” and has been linked by scientists to global warming. In this way, carbon emissions are not a local airshed issue, but instead are a key factor in the global issue of climate change.

In order to prioritize actions and measure results, the Port conducts an annual inventory of carbon emissions. Port emission inventories of energy consumption, criteria air contaminants, and greenhouse gases were developed as part of the study. The inventories were activity-based, accounting for the equipment fleets, activity rates and fuels consumption for marine vessels, rail locomotives, on-road vehicles, cargo handling equipment and administration. The inventory includes all of the terminal activities of the port’s tenants, ship movements within the Prince Rupert harbour boundaries, and a landside area that incorporated most of the local rail and truck movements to and from marine terminals.

Prince Rupert’s shorter marine distances to Asian markets, and its efficient rail network to North America provides its shippers with the lowest carbon footprint per container on the west coast. While Canadian Port Authorities have responsibility for environmental management, they do not have authority over emissions released by the rail and marine operators that frequent their ports. Additionally, they have limited authority over practices employed by their tenants—regulatory actions that restrict emissions are implemented at the national level. However, the Port and its partners are committed to seeking voluntary improvements with respect to emissions that tend to be complementary to government actions and collaborative or incentive-based in nature.