The Shipping Industry: Sound, CO2, and Sustainability in the Sea

Co-hosts Anna & Paloma speak with Parker Maritime Technologies about decarbonizing the shipping industry and protecting ocean life. Learn more at Decarbonized, the United Nations, and the International Maritime Organization.

The following is a transcript of the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full episode here

[Paloma:] Today, we’re diving into a topic of overseas shipping — specifically, the importance of decarbonizing the industry and protecting marine life.

[Anna:] We have three wonderful guests with us today: Dr. William Parker, Fiona Banister, and Kate Brinson. They work together at Parker Maritime Technologies on advancing innovation and leadership to decarbonize shipping and steward the ocean environment.

[Paloma:] Dr. Parker, as a researcher for the documentary Sonic Sea, tell us more about your involvement and your broader work to address this issue.

[Dr. William Parker:] First of all, it’s my absolute pleasure to be on your show today. I will tell you that we think smart, because I’ve surrounded myself with two very smart women, which you will hear from today. 

In particular, Sonic Sea is a 60-minute documentary about the impact of industrial and commercial shipping noise on whales and other marine mammals. The film begins with a mystery: the unexplained stranding and mass mortality of several species of whales in the Bahamas in March of 2000. As that mystery unfolds, the film explores the critical role of sound in the sea, and the sudden dramatic changes human activity is inflicting on the oceans’ delicate acoustic habitat. 

We worked very hard to educate the public globally — we reached tens of millions of people — so we said, ‘This is great. Now we’ve educated the population. Now we need to actually fix the problems that we discovered and talked about in that movie.’

That’s where we’re at today, with Parker Maritime Technologies. I spent three decades in the Navy on ships around the globe. During that time, I saw how loud the commercial shipping industry was, and thought, ‘Is there a way to make the ships quieter? Is there a way to protect our environment more?’ 

After retiring, I did several nonprofit efforts, and then proceeded to open this company. In the process of that, we have numerous patents now that help quiet the oceans and make ships more fuel-efficient. 

And again, it’s my great pleasure to not only be on your show, but to work with both Fiona Banister and Kate Brinson, and many other stalwarts on these issues.

[Anna Michel:] Fiona, I’d love to hear about your background, and what brought you into the project?

[Fiona Banister:] My background is 20 years in microfinance, working with women, indigenous communities, working on tribal medicine, solar ovens for women in Africa — looking at solutions that can make a great difference. 

How do we work on climate technology that can actually break a carbon destructive cycle? This is essential for the planet. I am so excited that we can bring this technology as quickly as possible out to test it. 

As I’m sitting in Vancouver right now looking across the harbor, with these large tankers here that have been sitting for too long, we can actually go in and within seven days, maybe shorter time, retrofit those ships to make them more efficient and make their sonic levels change. 

We can [also] be capable of interacting with the corporate social responsible groups — not just the ship owners, but everybody who puts these containers on them. Many consumer based brands are ready to make radical change. They understand that their customers want to be conscious, and we at Parker Maritime Technologies have a very important part of that solution.

[Paloma:] I would also love to hear from Miss Brinson what brought her into this field?

[Kate Brinson:] Our oceans and our environment is an issue that’s important to me and needs to be addressed in a very timely manner. Climate change has had a huge impact on the oceans. It’s depleting the oxygen in there that’s making it more difficult for ocean based life forms to survive and thrive. There is the issue of coral bleaching, as well as the issue of noise pollution — which I don’t believe has been brought to the forefront as much as it should be, or it could be. 

The large detrimental impact that the shipping industry is having on the health and well being of marine mammals, who are subjected to this deafening noise… their populations are decreasing. I spent a brief amount of time working for the United Nations Global Compact, which is focused on providing a framework for organizations and companies to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals.

[Anna:] The SDGs were set up in 2015, to be achieved by 2030, so where are we now with these goals, especially in the context of decarbonizing shipping? Fiona, I know you’re a bit of an expert here.

[Fiona Banister:] I would say I’m always learning and am an expert on nothing and a student in everything. Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we’re looking at the Goal 14: Life Below Oceans. But, also life above oceans, On Land. How do we as consumers participate in the shipping industry? 

Why are we co-responsible for three percent of greenhouse gasses emitted by shipping? By 2030, we’re looking for that to double. How do we mitigate? What are we going to do as a collective? 

Do we order stuff off Amazon and have it delivered in 48 hours? Do we know where it came from? Do we know its carbon footprint? How do we, as individuals, and as groups, participate in making radical change and being aware of our consumer actions and how they’re affecting the mammals in the ocean? 

With COP26 in Glasgow, there was quite a newer movement towards decarbonizing shipping — several very dynamic conferences looking at the effects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The problem is that just 90,000 ships across the globe are three percent of greenhouse gasses. That’s an estimate that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is trying to work on, but the IMO is a government-based lobby group; it cannot set the actual goals. It is looking at: how do they implement the 2030 agenda through policy, innovation, and integration? 

Now, what does that really mean, is the question. There’s a lot of talk at the United Nations. There’s a lot of talk at COP. And the climate questions are, how do we all get involved? How do we impact the change? 

Working with Dr. Parker is an honor because I know that we have a solution to lower the frequency of sound. And we need to find more, not just what we have. We need to collaborate. 

We have the opportunity to work as educators, as researchers, and as innovators, to make mitigation available for not just ship owners, but those of us who are going to be decision makers. We will choose whether it’s a green shipping company that’s delivering our materials. 

When we look at the 2030 goals, it is about education. About the young girls around the planet — uplifting them and their families and communities to participate and be part of the solution.

[Anna Michel:] Are there any certifications or labels being developed that address this issue of our ‘blue’ carbon footprint?

[Fiona Banister:] There are several in development. There’s quite a controversy about blue carbon, similar to green. Who actually plants a real tree? And who’s able to trade it? What’s its value? 

In my research under, we have been exploring this, specifically in forest and green carbon and working with Indigenous communities. Our team is involved in the XPrize Rainforest. It’s called ACT NOW. It’s the Amazonas Action Alliance Team, and we are competing to look at some of the most advanced technologies on carbon and biodiversity conservation. 

For me, moving towards the ocean is a natural flow because rainforest is water and the Amazon is a river basin. Rivers, and oceans, touch everybody. We have water in our bodies. We are water. It’s all interactive. 

It is a good question. We do need to set up an earth and ocean blue economy, and it’s on its way. But we do need to, first and foremost, look at the technology that can mitigate the dramatic challenges we’re having, especially in the next ten years. 

I’ll bring it back to Dr. Parker. Perhaps he can advance us further on how Parker Maritime Technologies has some of the solutions.

[Dr. William Parker:] Fiona was spot on there with her comments. I will say that when we started the company, we collectively decided that we wanted to go after sound in the ocean — specifically, those sounds that are impacting the life of marine mammals. We also wanted to look at greenhouse gas emissions. 

So we said, ‘Okay, this is our goal.’ But in order to do so, we need to do it in a way that would save the ship owners money, by reducing fuel costs, and improve their reputations at the same time, and make the ships quieter, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That was quite the challenge to start with. 

We finally got there — the technologies are with over a dozen patents now. Basically, what we’re doing is reducing the friction against the hull of the ship, in order to have the ship be more efficient as it moves through the ocean, and at the same time quieter. 

We expect that we will be installing these [technologies] on exceptionally large ships as early as the next 90 days. We’re now at the point of starting to build and actually putting these on those large ships. 

Then as we move forward, of course, you have about 90,000 commercial vessels out there. We’d look at starting with five percent of that, and then rapidly scaling that up to a larger percent as the company grows. 

Remember that 90% by volume — 85% by value — of all the world’s goods goes by ship. If you can reduce the sound, if you can reduce the fuel burn, if you can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions on that very large transportation hub, you have made a positive impact on the environment.

[Anna Michel:] What are some ways that the average person can have a positive impact on our ocean environment? Kate, feel free to jump in here.

[Kate Brinson:] It’s a real issue that most people may or may not be aware of. I believe that we can have an impact by, first of all, spreading awareness, and supporting technologies and organizations that are making it their mission to reduce their impact on marine life — taking into consideration the carbon footprint that we have every day and how we can utilize more sustainable ways of receiving our goods. 

The shipping industry is so large, and it’s projected to double by 2040. This issue is just going to get worse unless we’re spreading more awareness. I also believe that learning more about our oceans and the habitats and how they function [helps]. Personally, as a diver, going down to see how this beautiful ecosystem thrives, you know, it really makes the impact of our consumption more meaningful. I think spreading awareness and being mindful is one of the ways that individuals can really help.

[Paloma:] Regarding this idea of raising awareness, are there any events or conferences or campaigns you have going on right now?

[Dr. William Parker:] We participate in a cornucopia of conferences, et cetera, to share thoughts and build understanding of what the issues are, and how we can help resolve those issues. There’s lots of focus on it this year at TED Talks, and in other events like that. We were very proud to be part of the movie Sonic Sea, so we felt like we got to that point where we were able to help inform the global public. 

We then surrounded ourselves with what I would consider very smart people on our team. In addition to Fiona and Kate, we have the founder of Google Oceans. We have the former Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. We have people that have hundreds of patents and are high-tech people. By the way, I will tell you that a very high percentage of them are women. They happened to be the people that at that time were laser-focused on these issues. 

I will say that probably 95% of our efforts right now are on building and installing the technologies at Parker Maritime Technologies to ensure that the ships actually become quieter, more fuel-efficient, and reduce greenhouse gasses in the very near term. 

Anna and Paloma, you are both doing a huge part in improving our environment here at SpaceshipOne, and I want to thank you and commend you for your efforts. I think that you can’t get started with fixing a problem until you communicate with the greater population. 

We hope that you may invite us back in six months or a year, so we can give you an update on where we are and how many ships have these systems installed on them, what is the actual reduction in greenhouse gasses, and what the reduction in sound is on those ships as we see them installed around the globe.

[Anna Michel:] We’d love to have you back on for an update. In the meantime, where can our listeners go to learn more about decarbonizing shipping and protecting marine life?

[Fiona Banister:] Under, we’ll have a further page that will develop ocean technology and conservation research and links could be available there, as well as, and IMO.

Musical Interlude

[Anna:] This episode is dedicated to Richard, our beloved mentor and friend, who passed away suddenly on March 8, 2022. He was the one who encouraged me and Paloma to start the SpaceshipOne podcast in Fall 2020, and he played a key role in helping us get it off the ground. Rich believed in SpaceshipOne, and most importantly, he believed in me and Paloma. He was always there to guide us, challenge us, and cheer us on. Rest in peace, Richard. We miss you, and strive to make you proud.