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Growing maritime transport while protecting marine mammals

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Belugas and their calves can be affected by maritime transport. (Archive photo)

  • Patrick Bergeron (View profile)Patrick Bergeron

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Quebec confirms $2.5 million in aid to improve a system for modeling maritime traffic and the movements of marine mammals. This project, led by the University of Quebec en Outaouais (UQO), makes it possible to predict and reduce the impacts of transport on marine mammals in the St. Lawrence estuary and the Saguenay.

The modeling system, which looks like a 3D video game, takes into account the different routes of ships, ferries, excursion boats and the usual movements of marine mammals.

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This screenshot of the modeling system shows the presence of belugas (represented by dots of different colors) and 2 ships (represented by black squares)

When this system was developed around fifteen years ago, the objective was to avoid collisions between whales and certain ships. A first government aid, a little over five years ago, made it possible to improve it.

The Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), based in Tadoussac, is a partner in the project. Its president, Robert Michaud, is excited to see that Quebec intends to continue the development of this tool. According to him, it has proven itself and helps guide the development of maritime transport while protecting marine mammals.

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Robert Michaud is president and scientific director of the Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM).

If we increase maritime traffic in the Saguenay, if we change the Rivière-du-ferry Wolf towards Cacouna, what effect will this have on the exposure of whales, on the risk of collision or even on acoustic exposure?

A quote from Robert Michaud , President of the Marine Mammal Research and Education Group

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The new $2.5 million grant will make it possible to better assess the impacts of shipping on mammals and include real-time data, which will improve the proposals that can then be made to shipping companies to limit their environmental footprint.

The instigator of the project, Clément Chion, who is also a professor of socio-ecological systems modeling at the University of Quebec en Outaouais, explains that he will perfect certain aspects of the software by 2028. #x27;sound impact on marine mammals will be at the center of its research and the modifications that will be made to the modeling system.

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Many ships pass through the St. Lawrence estuary every day, where belugas live. (File photo)

Different scenarios are currently being studied – in partnership with a working group including maritime transport stakeholders and marine mammal protection organizations – to reduce the acoustic impact in the sector between Baie-Sainte -Catherine and L'Isle-aux-Coudres.

The objective is to carry out voluntary trials to reduce speed or modify certain ship routes, which will allow us to measure the impacts on both belugas and the maritime industry.

A quote by Clément Chion, professor of socio-ecological systems modeling at UQO

According to Robert Michaud, these modifications will be important to implement due to climate change. We can no longer take decades to collect data and decades to formulate recommendations and apply them, he insists.

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The Saguenay-Saint-Laurent marine park (in blue) is located just opposite Cacouna. This site as well as the area bordering the port of Gros-Cacouna are considered the beluga nursery in the St. Lawrence estuary.

In number tangible results of this modeling system: the idea of ​​reducing ship speeds in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park. To this day, this measure has made it possible, according to Robert Michaud, to reduce the impact of navigation on marine mammals in this sector.

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