Washington State Ferries (WSF), the state’s biggest consumer of diesel fuel, has released a two-year action plan for operating the ferry system more sustainably. Washington’s ferries burn more than 18 million gallons of fuel per year, generating more carbon and greenhouse gas emissions than any other component of the state transportation system. The new plan seeks to reduce emissions and waste, improve air quality and protect orca whales.

a ferry surrounded by green hills in Washington

Ferries serve the northwest part of Washington State, linking Seattle, Vancouver, the San Juan Islands and other places that locals and tourists live and visit. “Because we operate our 23 ferries on Puget Sound and manage 20 terminals on its shores, we have an obligation to ensure WSF is doing everything we can to protect our environment,” said Amy Scarton, assistant secretary at Washington State Department of Transportation. “This plan lays out our commitment to tackle these issues and continue our efforts to make Washington’s ferry system the greenest in the world.”

Related: Washington becomes the first state to allow human composting

a ferry surrounded by green hills in Washington

To cut down on emissions, the ferries had already decreased speed. Since adopting new speed guidelines in April 2018, they saved about 450,000 gallons in fuel. WSF is now working on hybridization and electrifying the ferry fleet.

a ferry surrounded by green hills in Washington near dock

Local orcas, known as Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Their biggest threats are toxic contaminants, prey availability and disturbance from vessel noise and traffic. WSF has already slowed its vessels in critical orca habitat to reduce noise, and plans to undertake a baseline noise inventory of the ferry fleet.

a ferry surrounded by green hills in Washington

WSF has already begun to remove creosote—which is toxic or carcinogenic to fish, birds, mammals and amphibians—from its facilities, and aims to complete creosote removal by 2021. The ferry system is also installing high efficiency LED fixtures to minimize light spillage.

+ Washington State Department of Transportation

Images via San Juan Islands Visitor Bureau. Photos by Brandon Fralic, Monika Wieland Shields and Western Prince Whale Watching

pod of orcas in ocean