© Mike Ambach / WWF-Canada Bulk container ship on the coast of British Columbia

Ocean Shipping

With marine traffic on the rise, we need to embrace sustainable shipping solutions now more than ever.

Shipping in Canada

Each year, some 50,000 merchant ships sail the world’s ocean, carrying more than 90 per cent of all trade between countries. And for good reason — marine shipping is often the most cost-effective way to move goods around the planet, and sometimes the most carbon-efficient, too. Shipping plays a vital role in Canada,from receiving goods from around the world and transporting salt across the Great Lakes to shuttling Saskatchewan wheat across the Pacific to Asian markets. Meanwhile, many remote communities, especially in the North, rely on shipping to deliver necessities.

© istock Freight vessel in the arctic sea, Western Greenland

Impacts from Shipping

Every human activity creates an impact. Shipping is no exception. Some of the biggest risks and impacts from shipping include:

Oil spills:  Groundings, shipwrecks, accidents or fires can release oil into sensitive habitats. Oil spills are known to contaminate our waters and coastlines and affect species in their paths.

Pollutants: Ships generate a wide range of pollutants that can create both immediate and long-term environmental damage from garbage, scrubber effluent, sewage and grey water to oily waste and sludge.

Air emissions: Air emissions from marine vessels include greenhouse gases and other pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and black carbon, which impact local air quality, human health and the global climate.

Ship strikes: Many of the busiest shipping routes in the world directly overlap with whale migration routes and habitat. Ship strikes are one of the leading causes of death for endangered whale populations.

Underwater noise pollution: Shipping noise drowns out the whistles, clicks and moans that some whales use to communicate, navigate, find food and avoid predators. Higher noise levels also increase their stress levels.

Invasive species: The ballast water that ships load and unload when they take on new cargo, as well as organisms attaching to the hulls of ships (called hull fouling) can contain invasive species.

Habitat destruction: Icebreakers destroy the habitat that seals, walruses and polar bears rely on. The construction of new port infrastructure can have serious impacts on marine life, destroying sensitive seafloor habitats.

Disruption of food security for Indigenous and local livelihoods: Shipping can have severe impacts on the species and habitats that Indigenous and local communities depend on for food and culture.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

WWF-Canada is working to demonstrate that low-impact shipping can safeguard marine habitats while providing community and economic development opportunities and enhancing local food security. WWF-Canada works with governments, Indigenous communities, researchers, industry stakeholders and coastal communities to make shipping more sustainable.


Our Efforts Focus on Three Core Areas:


Reducing Pollution and Climate Change Impacts
Alongside our partners, we work to eliminate spills and pollutants, reduce climate impacts and address ocean dumping of wastewater – grey water, sewage and scrubber effluent.

Protecting Marine Wildlife
We work with industry, communities and governments to reduce the risks of shipping to ocean habitat and wildlife.

Marine Planning
We work closely with coastal communities, planners, government and other stakeholders to ensure new and existing shipping operations are thoughtfully developed, managed and monitored.

With marine traffic on the rise, we need to embrace sustainable shipping solutions now more than ever. WWF-Canada will continue to work with partners to better understand the risks posed by shipping, find ways to mitigate those risks — especially in coastal communities and areas of high conservation value — and create a more robust regulatory framework to protect marine wildlife and the habitats they depend on to thrive.

© Chad Graham / WWF-Canada A Canadian grain ship in the Port of Prince Rupert

What You Can Do

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© WWF-Canada / Zoe Caron Surface of the Arctic Ocean

Learn More About Our Ocean Work

It’s not too late to bring the ocean back to a state of health and resilience. We are working to change the tide, driving protection and sustainable management so the ocean has a vibrant future.

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