High Seas Alliance Statement to ICP on Anthropogenic Ocean Noise

Date: 18th June 2018

Thank you Co- Chairs, and I join others in congratulating you on your appointment as co-chairs of the ICP.  I am speaking on behalf of the High Seas Alliance, the Interamerican Association of Environmental Defense, and the Int’l Fund of Animal Welfare (IFAW). We also align ourselves with the statement to be made from OceanCare. We are grateful that the Informal Consultative Process and the work of DOALOS provides a collaborative forum to delve into critical issues that affect our ocean, including this pressing issue anthropogenic ocean noise.

Sound is a fundamental component of ocean life that marine animals and ecosystems have relied on for millions of years. But in the span of just 100 years, technological developments have led to an exponential increase in human activity along the coasts, and to deep ocean environments in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Some scientists estimate that ocean is 100 times noisier today than 100 years ago, as a result of anthropogenic activity – primarily from ships, oil and gas exploration and military sonar.  We also know that Noise from this activity travels much faster and farther underwater than in the air, further compounding ocean noise levels.

We welcome the Secretary-General’s report on ocean noise which notes that these rising noise levels can negatively impact ocean animals and ecosystems in complex ways, reducing an animal’s ability to communicate and to hear environmental cues that are vital for survival, breeding and access to feeding grounds.

To address these serious effects, we agree with Canada that it necessitates a global approach:

  • We urge that anthropogenic ocean noise be recognized as “pollution” under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  As such, States would be required under articles 194 and 196 to take all measures necessary to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from anthropogenic underwater noise, including those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems, as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.
  • We also call for ocean noise to recognized as a form of marine pollution to be addressed under Sustainable Development Goal 14.1 which seeks to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds by 2025.
  • In addition, as ocean noise presents complex transboundary and cross-sectoral issues, we agree with Peru that the negotiations that will convene in September for a new legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable development of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction or “BBNJ”, can be an important opportunity to address noise in ABNJ in a harmonized and global manner.  In particular, these can be incorporated within the elements regarding ABMTs and EIAs.
  • First, it is vital that ABMTs that specifically address the impacts of underwater noise pollution.  This could take the form of “quiet zones” to protect open-ocean migratory corridors for cetaceans and fish where there is particular vulnerable biological diversity.
  • One type of ABMT – marine protected areas, can act as buffers from the effects of noise generated by activities in the surrounding waters or seabed.  With respect to the BBNJ Intergovernmental conference, we support a process for the designation and effective management of a network of protected areas including marine reserves, and this process should include ocean areas in need of heightened protection due to anthropogenic noise.
  • Second, regarding the element on Environmental impacts assessment that will be addressed under the BBNJ negotiations, we recommend that text be developed to require robust, comprehensive and transparent Environmental Impact Assessments, including cumulative impacts, prior to approval of applications for noise-generating activities to take place.

We also support that

  • specific language be included in the United Nations General Assembly Omnibus Oceans Resolution, and Sustainable Fisheries Resolutions, as well as within domestic legislation, to explicitly recognise ocean noise as a serious form of transboundary pollution to be mitigated and addressed.

Lastly co-Chairs,  it is important to address ways to reducing sounds at their source —  looking at new technologies, quieter ships, quieter ways to undertake research.  Noise, unlike many other marine pollutants is not persistent – when the noise stops the pollution disappears almost immediately.  If we can reduce noise at the source, then we go a long way to tackling this pollutant.

On the heels of a multitude of unprecedented stressors, we now need to turn the tide on what we have managed to impact over the last century.  We are looking forward to discussing this important and timely issue this week to seek forward–looking approaches and technologies to address, reduce and mitigate these impacts.

Thank you very much.

Peggy Kalas
High Sea Alliance

Cover photo by Pawel Nolbert on Unsplash

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