“Without this form of transport, modern life as we know it would not exist.” – Véronique Nolet
Véronique Nolet is a marine biologist who graduated from the Université du Québec à Rimouski in Quebec, Canada. She is best known for her work in assessing and mitigating the impacts of underwater noise generated by shipping activities, and has conducted a comprehensive study on behalf of Transport Canada to provide the Canadian government with a summary report on the issue.
Ms. Nolet is a program manager for Green Marine, the leading environmental certification program for North America’s shipping industry. She is in charge of everything that Green Marine does related to whales and other marine mammals, underwater noise, as well as community relations and waste management. From 2014 to 2017, she led a binational working group on underwater noise, gathering various expert perspectives to develop Green Marine’s environmental performance indicators regarding underwater noise.
Tell us about your current projects.
I am one of Green Marine’s three project managers. We collaborate on all of our projects, but I primarily focus on underwater noise issues, community relations as it relates to environmental sustainability and waste management. For example, this year I am working on an initiative to improve waste management at ports and terminals. We hope to reduce waste by motivating employees to reuse and recycle items, as well as properly dispose of organic matter.
Collisions between marine mammals and ships is also an issue that I am investigating. Although ship strikes are not currently being addressed by Green Marine’s program, I’m able to provide insights to our membership and the industry as a whole to avoid mishaps. As a marine biologist, everything related to the well-being of whales is of huge interest to me.
Right now, I am primarily focusing on the impacts of ship strikes on North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. I’m closely following all of the research being done to provide the shipping industry with better information about the whereabouts of whales in Canadian waters during the summer. We need better data on whale distribution because their migration and feeding patterns are changing. Without knowing their likely whereabouts, the possibility of ship strikes increases. In light of this, a number of shipping associations have turned to Green Marine for guidance on how to adapt their operations to reduce the risks of a whale collision.
I previously worked at the Marine Mammal Observation Network (MMON), where I was the lead writer of guides produced for mariners to help them identify whales and become more aware of their likely migration and habitat.
Green Marine and MMON have taken this effort a step further by offering shipping companies a marine mammal identification training program. I personally go aboard different ships to train captains and crews to identify whales, know what steps to take if they see a whale in front of the ship’s bow and learn other measures to avoid a ship strike. I also show the captains and crews how to record and report their observations so the information can be added to MMON’s databank.
What are some of the objectives of your work?
Everything I do fits with Green Marine’s core mission of advancing environmental excellence within the maritime transportation industry. Using my scientific training, I:
- Identify emerging issues;
- Assess current situations based on existing and imminent research; and,
- Facilitate discussions among the industry, government agencies, the academic community and technological innovators to determine feasible solutions to eliminate or reduce environmental impacts.
What is the key message of your research?
Together we can do better! I really believe this. In fact, I’ve witnessed it happen again and again through my work with Green Marine. We invite members of the scientific community, non-governmental agencies and other key stakeholders to the table to discuss matters side by side with industry and government representatives. Our inclusive approach takes the various sides of an issue into account, including regional concerns. We then work towards consensus with the keen understanding of Green Marine’s fundamental goal to achieve continuous environmental improvement.
When can we expect this project to be complete?
Green Marine’s environmental certification program is continually advancing. The program is annually reviewed and revised to ensure that its higher criteria levels go beyond existing and imminent regulations. We don’t expect the challenges to ease as marine commerce along with other major industries pursue solutions to slow climate change, protect habitat and safeguard species. We’ve done a lot already, but we still have our work cut out for us.
How do you anticipate your research being applied?
The research and recommendations that I prepare are used in the program’s evolution. The findings can lead to new environmental performance indicators being added to the program. They also inform the discussions that establish the criteria that each participant must satisfy to achieve a performance level within the program. When an issue is particularly crucial, my findings can lead to voluntary initiatives led by industry.
I am hopeful that my work regarding ship strikes will lead to the better understanding and protection of whales and other marine mammals, while still being feasible for the shipping industry. Current slowdowns to avoid collisions being fatal has caused some economic hardship for the industry. It would be easier if we knew when whales were present. Green Marine is working hard with others to convince the Canadian government of the need to have a whale listening station in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to improve monitoring. I’m hopeful that the work I’m doing regarding the North Atlantic right whale will benefit other species, such as the blue whales and the belugas in the St. Lawrence Estuary.
How is your work funded?
Green Marine is a not-for-profit organization. The main sources of funding are the annual fees paid by Green Marine’s participants, and any profits earned after costs of holding the organization’s annual GreenTech conference. Green Marine doesn’t receive any grants or subsidies, but the organization has been commissioned to conduct a few specific research assignments, such as the underwater noise report I wrote for Transport Canada.
What do you wish everyone knew about your work?
The shipping companies participating in Green Marine’s program are being really proactive when it comes to the environment. These are companies that are taking significant voluntary initiative. They look forward, improving their environmental performance score under the program’s framework year after year. And that’s not easy to do with the bar continually being raised in terms of existing criteria and new performance indicators being added regularly.
What do you wish everyone knew about commercial marine shipping?
I think a lot of people fail to realize that virtually everything in their homes, offices, gyms and elsewhere was transported at some point by commercial ships. Without this form of transport, modern life as we know it would not exist. A number of people are bashing ships as huge floating polluters without knowing that when it comes to moving large amounts of cargo, these vessels are the most fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transportation. Shipping companies are further improving their efficiency with innovative designs, materials, equipment and technologies to further reduce their environmental footprint.
What inspires you to do this work?
I’m passionate about ensuring the future of whales and other marine life. I’m also inspired by the synergy created by various people coming together to address shared challenges – each bringing his or her unique expertise and experience. I wake up in the morning and I’m like “Woo-hoo! Let’s get started!” because there’s so much to do and the discussions are always so interesting.
Now that I’ve been working at Green Marine for a while, I have a much better understanding of the shipping industry’s operations and activities. I can factor these realities into the discussions regarding environmental solutions that make a substantial difference without unduly impeding the business so that we all continue to receive our stuff by ship every day.
Where can we learn more?
You can find more information on Green Marine’s website, including more about the program’s environmental performance indicators. There’s also more about my specific work regarding underwater noise and marine mammals, and Understanding Anthropogenic Underwater Noise.
More about Véronique Nolet:
Véronique Nolet has worked for a major part of her career for the protection and conservation of marine mammals in the St. Lawrence River. She played a leadership role in producing A Mariner’s Guide to Whales in the Northwest Atlantic and has collaborated in creating other similar educational and awareness tools for the shipping industry. She sits on the Canadian North Atlantic Right Whale Protection Technical Committee and on the Independent Advisory Committee – a binational forum consisting of NGOs, scientists and industry representatives that works at ensuring consistency between Canadian and U.S. measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale. She has been invited to speak at many forums regarding the industry’s efforts to mitigate underwater noise, including the 19th Meeting of the Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea in June, 2018, at the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York on the topic of anthropogenic underwater noise.
Published November 8, 2018