vessel traffic

Vessel Traffic in the Salish Sea: Preparing for the Future

Written by Michael Chang
Story Map by Michael Chang (2015-2016 Hershman Marine Policy Fellow, Makah Tribe/The Nature Conservancy), Erica Simek Sloniker (GIS & Visual Communications), and Laura Nelson (2014-2015 Hershman Marine Policy Fellow, Makah Tribe/The Nature Conservancy)

The Salish Sea, a body of water between British Columbia and Washington State that includes the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound, is a region that supports the livelihoods of millions of people. Communities, tribes, and First Nations are intimately dependent on these waters for food, culture, recreation, and industry.

Every year, about 10,000 cargo ships carry hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil through the Salish Sea, creating a constant risk of oil spills in the region that could harm community and tribal livelihoods. However, an intricate network of experts from the Coast Guard, U.S. tribes, Canadian First Nations, state & federal agencies, regional non-profits, and local communities have prevented a major oil spill from occurring in over 20 years.

Recently, there have been several new proposals and developments for oil terminals that will increase the oil shipping volume by twofold. To ensure that the Salish Sea can adapt to the doubling of vessels and oil, the Makah Tribe and TNC have partnered together to organize a trans-boundary vessel safety summit in order to improve the U.S. and Canadian coordination for oil response, prevention, and preparedness.

The Nature Conservancy and Makah have created an interactive story map detailing the vessel safety system and what needs to be done to accommodate the expected increase in vessel traffic.

See the full, interactive story map on vessel traffic on oil spill preparedness and response in the Salish Sea region. 

Cargo, Conversation & Conservation


Adapting to the new image of nature

Written and Photographed by by Melissa Laird, Associate Director of Philanthropy and Laura Nelson, Marc Hershman Marine Policy Fellow

If you close your eyes and think of Puget Sound, what do you see? Beaches, wildlife, boats?

Last week, as we looked out the windows of our Seattle office in the heart of Pike Place Market, we saw more commercial vessels navigating through one of our state’s natural icons than ever before. While the crowded waterway that day might have been an anomaly for the current time, this could be an increasingly familiar scene in the near future.

There are several proposed port expansions that would add volume to the roughly 10,000 deep draft vessels already annually plying the waters of the Salish Sea. These ships will also be carrying cargoes like oil and coal; not things we want ending up in the water. There are many existing safety measures already in place in the Sound and groups like the Coast Guard work hard to protect it from oil spills. However, there is still work to be done to ensure the system is ready to handle the proposed increases or to make it more robust even if those expansions do not end up getting built. 

The Nature Conservancy, along with several partners like the Makah Tribe, is working to facilitate discussions between federal, state, provincial, tribal, and first nation groups in the United States and Canada to improve coordination, communication, and capacity in oil spill prevention and planning efforts. We need to keep oil out of the water if we want to protect the marine habitat we treasure and that orcas and salmon call home.

How do we continue to protect that pristine image that you see when you close your eyes? Having an open dialogue with partners and working together on solutions is a good first step. And we’re committed to being part of this conversation.

Learn more about our work on Puget Sound.