The Green Corridor: Saving Whales in California – A Case Study in Regional Collaboration

The Green Corridor: Saving Whales in California – A Case Study in Regional Collaboration

by Timothy Foote, Founder of Susymbio

Collaboration in supply chains is not just confined to how product, information and funds move; it also includes our approach to tackling environmental issues.


If you are like many people, summer months are used for taking a couple weeks off to relax. Schools let out, and tourism flourishes. In nature too, summer is an eventful time for many species. International shipping though is a year round occupation and in the case of many coastal areas around the world – this causes conflict between industry and nature. In one region in the world, this conflict sets up a situation where only regional collaboration could provide a win-win solution.

For pacific blue whales, summer is a time for eating and getting together in cold waters. Because of this, the cold waters off the coast of California are teeming with the largest creatures on earth – drifting and swimming along at around 5 knots per hour. In July 2013 during a visit to Southern California, I had the opportunity to go whale watching in the Santa Barbara Channel. I was fortunate enough to see blue whales, humpback whales, seals, dolphins and all sorts of birds corralling fish and then feasting in the cold waters of the Pacific.

The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived on our planet. They can measure up to 33 meters and weigh up to 190 tons! Sadly, it is also endangered (there are anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 left in the entire world). The same Santa Barbara Channel where I went whale watching is also a primary shipping lane for container and other ships from Asia to reach the West Coast of the U.S. – especially large container ships. So the fact that blue whales (and other endangered whale species) use the Santa Barbara Channel as a prime feeding ground (the very area I went whale watching) at the same time that the largest ships in the world were also cruising through at 14 knots per hour caused many in the conservation community great alarm.


Problem – How to Protect Precious Wildlife from being killed by the large ships plying the channel?

Whales are susceptible to being hit and mortally wounded by large vessels when they travel at full speed. The incidents have been well documented and ship captains as well as oceanic park rangers dread the occurrence of these collisions.

Though whales are big, they are not experts at keeping out of the way of large fast-moving ships. They also keep to the surface of the water because they breathe air just like we do.


Solution – The best way to prevent collisions between whales and ships is by simply slowing a ships speed.

This allows the whales more time to understand what is coming at them and provides them with time to get out of the way or divert their course. Rather simple, but how to get all of the industry players onboard in absence of regulations? Time is money after all. Competition between companies does not naturally allow for collaboration or cooperation.

“Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies” was formed in 2014 to foster and collaborate with the maritime industry to reduce vessel speeds in this busy passage to slow ships down. This group was started by regional government leaders, National Marine Sanctuary staff, and various foundations concerned with protecting and improving the oceans off California.
This core group reached out to the port managers and the shipping lines that used the channel for help.

And they were very successful!

CMA-CGM, Cosco, Maersk, ONE, OOCL, and most other main line operators (MLO’s) were eager to get involved.

Collectively the parties involved agreed to a commitment to slow down vessel speeds to a maximum of 10 knots per hour in the channel area from mid-May to mid-November – the time period of peak whale migration as well as peak ozone emissions. Because everyone was in this together, it kept the competition even and because the vessel operators kept to their commitment it prevented the need for regulation.


Blue Skies – Better Health for Coastal Communities

Slowing down the ships speed not only benefits marine species, it also reduces a lot of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. I point this out to companies that are looking to reduce their carbon emissions. As most of us in the industry know, when a ships speed is reduced, there is a reduction of emissions as well as fuel costs. This means cleaner air and better health for the coastal communities.


Win Win

Today over 90% of vessels are moving through the channel at 10 knots and below (see the areas off California involved). To date since the start of the program over 76,000 tons of green house gasses have been reduced. On the marine side, there have been 50% less collisions with whales. Humanity and wildlife are benefitting from this collaborative effort.

This story is a great example of how, collaboration can happen in our fractured and decentralized commercial environment. This California program proves it, and it should be copied to all areas of sensitive ocean ecology. Ask yourself – where could you make a difference for the environment if only government and industry worked together?

About the Author:

Tim Foote runs Susymbio, a boutique consulting firm advising on e-commerce logistics solutions and sustainability program management services.Tim has held various positions with MNCs, gaining a wide knowledge and expertise in logistics operations. He crafted delivery solutions for e-commerce clients and managed supply chains for several chemical and freight forwarding companies. At DHL eCommerce’s first Asia Pacific Head of Go Green, he put in place carbon footprint management, sustainability training, illegal wildlife smuggling monitoring training, and employee engagement. Tim volunteers his free-time with the Singapore Wildcat Action Group, a not-for-profit organization that raises awareness and funds for wildlife conservation.


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