Experts call for international standards to manage ocean noise pollution

Signal of change / Experts call for international standards to manage ocean noise pollution

By Juliette Aplin / 23 Sep 2015

As more governments and industries are exploring the ocean floor for oil and gas reserves, there has been an increase in noise associated with shipping and high-decibel seismic surveys. 

A group of experts from eight universities and environmental organisation has responded, calling for new global standards and mitigation strategies to manage noise pollution in the oceans.

Its research suggests that seismic impulses are among the loudest noises humans put into the ocean. Man-made noise has been found to interrupt and mask the sounds many marine species rely on to navigate, communicate and find food. According to Douglas Nouwacek of Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina, one of the report’s contributing authors, long-term exposure to noise can lead to hearing damage, chronic stress, and potential reproductive problems amongst marine animals. 

A paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment sets out the group’s recommendations for international regulation for ocean noise pollution. 

Image caption: Test Blast

Image credit: PH2 Norr, U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

So what?

Measures to limit noise levels in the oceans currently vary from region to region.  As noise from marine seismic surveys is a transboundary and international issue, the scientists have recommended global standards and regulation. 

These recommendations follow the US Navy’s recent agreement to limit sonar training and testing off the coasts of Hawaii and Southern California, in order to reduce harm caused to marine mammals in the area.

The group also recommends that anthropogenic noise be internationally recognised as a pollutant, as currently only the European Union recognises sound pollution.

International standards could incentivise further investigation of the long-term impacts on marine life, supporting research to inform where seismic activities or shipping should be prohibited or limited to protect marine wildlife. 

Will these recommendations be adopted into the existing International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships as recommended?   

Sources

PHYS.ORG (September 1, 2015) New international standards needed to manage ocean noise 

Nowacek, D.,Clark, C., et al. (September 1, 2015)  in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Marine Seismic Surveys and Ocean Noise: Time for Coordinated and Prudent Planning 

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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