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New nautical charts delivered after December 1 will depict the waters of the NOAA Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary as an area to be voluntarily avoided by ships greater than 1,600 tons, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sanctuary officials. Although voluntary, the measure is expected to keep large commercial ships further offshore to reduce the threat of oil spills at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and for the outer Washington Coast. NOAA is an agency of the Commerce Department.
The United Nation’s International Maritime Organization, a London-based body that regulates ocean-going shipping, has modified the existing Olympic Coast “Area-To-Be Avoided” (ATBA). An ATBA is an area that certain classes of ships should avoid because navigation is particularly hazardous or where it is exceptionally important to avoid environmental impacts within the area. Smaller vessels engaged in allowable activities in the sanctuary, such as fishing, are not affected by the new measure.
“This new designation is a good example of a voluntary measure that really works,” said NOAA Olympic Coast sanctuary superintendent Carol Bernthal. “As the recent oil spill off Spain reminds us, prevention is the key to dealing with oil spills. The new chart designation is a warning flag around this area. The maritime industry recognizes this as a prudent precaution to safeguard their ships and the environment.”
“This shows government and industry working as partners,” said Bob Bohlman, a representative of the Marine Exchange, an industry group. “We worked together with the sanctuary staff and the Coast Guard to develop the ATBA, and we see it as a necessary protection for waters of the sanctuary.”
The new ATBA designation includes two changes. First, it increases the size of the existing ATBA to the north and west to provide a greater margin of safety around Duntze and Duncan rocks and Tatoosh Island. Second, the ATBA applies to ships greater than 1,600 gross tons, regardless of their cargo. These ships carry large amounts of bunker fuel, which, if spilled, would be extremely harmful to the unique, valuable, and sensitive marine life within Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
“This new ATBA measure also considers the safety of other mariners,” said George Galasso, Olympic Coast Sanctuary staff member that developed the proposal. “By aiming the measure at larger ships, we ensured that smaller vessels would not be routed further offshore in heavy seas.”
The sanctuary, the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard will monitor ATBA compliance and will continue an education and outreach campaign to the maritime industry, distributing informational charts and informing ship owners when their vessels enter the area.
The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration, and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. In addition, the NMSP is conducting a sanctuary designation process to incorporate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve into the national sanctuary system.
NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOAA Ocean Service) manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving, and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. NOS balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.