Environmental impacts of port and harbour operations

Cargo operations

Discharges and emissions from cargo handling

During cargo handling operations in ports and harbours discharges and emissions can and do occur, often accidentally. Handling of dry bulk cargo including grain, coal, iron ore, china clay may cause the production of dust. Handling of liquid bulks may require discharge through pipelines, which provides the potential for leaks, emissions and spillages. Sources of atmospheric pollution can stem from cargo vapour emissions. Release of cargoes into the marine environment may have direct environmental effects, as in the case of the loss of toxic substances, or indirect effects, such as the loss of non-toxic organic-rich substances which may result in oxygen depletion on their breakdown.

There are vast amounts of dry bulk cargoes shipped around Europe and the dust generation from the physical handling of these cargoes is generally harmless to the marine environment. Concern is often due to its highly visible nature. Some dry bulk cargoes have high concentrations of organic material and/or nutrients, such as fertilisers and animal feed, with high biological oxygen demands, large spillages of these may cause localised nutrient enrichment and oxygen depletion. This may result in the suffocation of marine life in the vicinity.

In several ports located in European marine sites cargoes may include harmful substances including oil, liquefied gas, pesticides, industrial chemicals and fertilisers, where accidents may result in their release which can adversely affect the marine environment. For the purpose of Annex II and III, the MARPOL Convention has classified the environmental effect of harmful substances carried by sea in bulk or in packages. The environmental hazards of harmful substances include damage to living resources (toxicity), bioaccumulation, hazard to human health (oral intake, inhalation and skin contact) and reduction of amenities. The severity of the pollution of the marine environment, air, soil or groundwater will depend upon the nature of the substance and the amount and concentration released into the port environment. Although discharges and emissions from dust and fumes may occur from everyday operational activities in ports and harbours, they are unlikely to be present in sufficient concentrations to cause ecological harm if HSE regulations are complied with and good operational practice adopted. The potential impacts of oil spills and discharges are discussed in the Waste Management Section.

Noise from cargo operations

Noise associated with cargo handling has the potential to cause disturbance to animals and birds inhabiting marine SACs. However, it is unlikely that noise from cargo operations will have any impact on SAC designated features. There is very little information available on the effects of noise on waterfowl, and it is particularly sparse with regard to port and harbour operations. Much of the research into the effects of noise on waterfowl focuses on the impacts of coastal construction, including the building of roads, bridges and barrages. A British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) review reports that evidence of noise disturbance during construction operations has been found for certain wildfowl and wader species (BTO 1990). However, to some extent the literature is biased towards finding effects since studies are often undertaken where a problem is perceived. Although noise has little impact on waterfowl and waders, there is considerable evidence to show that noise does have an impact on other bird species (D. Huggett RSPB personal communication 1998).

Evidence suggest that in general, wildlife, including birds, adjust to noise levels, even sudden noises, as indicated by the existence of SPAs near to 24 hour container terminals which have been there for years. Noise tolerance can be demonstrated by the developed tolerance of birds to the loud noises made by bird scarers used to protect crops. Habituation of birds to noise, light and traffic disturbance is reported to be considerable, as birds are rather adaptable and can accommodate regular disturbance events, becoming tolerant to the disturbance over a relatively short period. However, the ability of waterfowl species to habituate to certain forms of disturbance and their ability to compensate for lost feeding time due to disturbance is poorly understood (BTO 1990). The noise generated by cargo operations in ports is very unlikely to affect European marine sites and there is evidence that birds continue to use feeding grounds close to major container terminals. However, whether more birds would use the site if the noise was not there will remain an unanswered question.

Shipping operations

Ships Wash

Collisions between vessels and marine animals

Noise from ships and boats

Marine accidents

Anchoring and mooring

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