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Over 90 percent of world trade is carried across the world's oceans by some 50,000 merchant ships. Like all modes of transportation that use fossil fuels, ships produce carbon dioxide emissions that significantly contribute to global climate change and ocean acidification. More than three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions are attributed to shipping on the oceans. Ships also emit other pollutants that affect our oceans such as solid waste toxins; tankers and other ships release oil, oily residue, and bilge water; and large vessels and cruise ships emit large amounts of air pollution. Ships are carrying more fuel and materials that are more toxic these days, putting our oceans at even more risk. Incessant noise caused by shipping threatens the survival of marine mammals, fish and other species that depend on sound to communicate, navigate, find food and detect prey. Plastic waste is also accumulating in the ocean, in swirling seas of debris, at an astonishing rate.

The San Francisco Bay Area and California's coastal waters are seeing rapidly increasing shipping traffic that threatens the wildlife these sanctuaries should protect. Virtually unregulated, about tens of thousands of oil tankers and cargo ships travel to our busy ports annually adding to global warming, and posing a significant threat to the survival of marine mammals, fish and other marine species -- largely acoustic animals that survive and thrive by sound. Sadly, large vessels are a major cause of whale deaths by ship strikes. These huge ships are also the largest producer of low frequency ocean noise, flooding this sound-sensitive underwater world with incessant noise that interferes with whales' ability to communicate, navigate, find food, detect prey, and hear at all.

As sea ice continues to recede, we are seeing an increase in vessel traffic throughout the Arctic Ocean. While the recent increases in Arctic shipping have largely been at the regional scale, cruise ships, cargo and oil, gas, and mineral transport vessels, are getting larger. Super-sized tankers and mega ships carry even more fuel and toxic products that can be introduced into the Arctic environment, a place where cleaning up oil spills and rescuing distressed vessels is virtually impossible, especially in the absence of better cleanup technology and international agreements governing ship traffic and vessel rescue. This increase in shipping, coupled with the rapid retreat of the polar ice cap, points to more risky trans-Arctic shipping in the near future if protective measures are not taken.

The more southern Aleutian Islands currently serve as the major Asia-North American shipping route. Despite being relatively close to the mainland, they have been the site of several shipping accidents that resulted in loss of life, damage to the marine environment, and loss of commercial and subsistence fishing opportunities.

By working with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Arctic Council, Pacific Environment is working to ensure that the Polar Code implements protective standards for shipping in the Arctic, protecting the environment, wildlife and communities from accidents and other negative impacts of increased shipping.

Click to learn more about shipping impacts in the Arctic.