Rapidly Growing Ship Traffic Threatens Ocean Life

Ships move most of our goods around the world. They carry coal and oil, TVs and t-shirts.

They also transport hidden passengers: invasive species. Released into new habitats, they wreak havoc on native plants and ocean life.

Other threats include oil spills and harassment of marine life from noise. Collisions with ships are a leading cause of death for some marine mammals.

Global trade is expanding and ship traffic will likely double in the next 10 years.

We advocate new rules to manage the impacts of rapidly growing ship traffic on communities, wildlife and the ocean.

  • I’m grateful that Pacific Environment succeeded in requiring ship captains to avoid marine mammals—a huge protection for these animals, as well as Native communities.
    Eduard Zdor, Arctic Indigenous activist
  • Sea ice, strong currents and extreme weather increase risks of ship groundings, collisions and catastrophic oil spills in the Arctic. This is compounded by inadequate mapping of formerly inaccessible regions and a lack of emergency response resources.
  • We lead successful coalition advocacy for new international laws to protect Arctic indigenous communities and the wildlife they depend on from increased ship traffic. The new "Polar Code" requires ship captains to avoid marine mammal concentrations and forbids shippers to dump oil into the sea.
  • When ships burn oil for fuel, they spew soot or "black carbon." This soot darkens ice in the Arctic. Dark ice absorbs more heat, which speeds the melting of the ice and accelerates climate change.
  • Experts agree that an oil spill is the biggest threat to the Arctic marine environment from increased shipping. Ships use oil as fuel and transport it as cargo.
  • Ships take in water in one location and discharge it in another. This water is used to weigh a ship down and lower its center of gravity, providing stability. This ballast water also allows invasive species to hitch rides around the globe—another grave threat to marine life.
  • Safety
  • Strong Rules
  • Climate Change
  • Oil Spills
  • Invasive Species
We partner with Arctic indigenous leaders to ensure that international lawmakers pay attention to community concerns. (Photo: IMO)
Reducing black carbon (soot, visible as dark snow in the Arctic) is a fast and economical way to slow climate change and protect human health. (Photo: NASA)
Ship traffic in Southeast Asian waters, already heavily trafficked by cargo ships, will quadruple by 2050. (Photo: Singapore.gov)

Creating Rules That Benefit Communities and Wildlife

The Arctic

The Arctic Ocean is still one of the most pristine places on the planet. But sea ice is disappearing fast, opening new sea routes between Europe and Asia through the narrow Bering Strait.

Our Strategy

We are a key organizer and advocate for strong marine protections in the U.S. Arctic. We also have a rare seat at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency that writes rules for the ocean.

At the IMO, we lead a coalition of environmental allies to put direct pressure on country delegations. We complement this advocacy with grassroots and “grasstops” pressure on secondary decision-makers in state and federal government who influence the U.S. IMO delegation, as well as other international bodies like the Arctic Council.

Our Impact

To prevent catastrophic oil spills, we lead an international coalition to ban ships from using dangerous fuel oil in the Arctic.

We advocate new rules in polar waters to curb climate-changing black carbon emissions and prevent invasive species from entering the Arctic.

We partner with indigenous leaders to steer ships clear of wildlife and to establish speed limits that help reduce noise and ocean life collisions.

We work with the U.S. Coast Guard and other decision-makers to ensure that we have the capacity and equipment needed to respond to ship emergencies in the U.S. Arctic.

Southeast Asia

Ships traffic more oil through Southeast Asia than anywhere else in the world. They also pollute coastal waters and air in port cities.

We collaborate with campaigners from the United States, Russia, Vietnam, Philippines and Hong Kong to pilot national solutions before taking them to international policymakers at the IMO.

  • The entire world population of spectacled eiders breeds in the Bering Sea.
  • The Bering Strait region is one of the earth’s most productive marine ecosystems.
  • About 90% of global trade is transported via cargo ships.
  • The Arctic Ocean will be completely ice-free in the summer within 10 to 30 years.
  • Shipping is responsible for almost 70% of all invasive species introductions into marine ecosystems worldwide.