European Parliament takes a significant step to protect marine life from underwater noise

Earlier this month, the European Parliament voted to make oil and gas exploration utilizing underwater sonar subject to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), as a significant step to reduce marine noise pollution.

In 2008, approximately 100 melon-headed whales stranded in Northwest Madagascar. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) rushed a team of experts to conduct mass stranding prevention, provide medical care to stranded live animals, and gather as much data as possible. In a report issued on the 25th of September 2013, an independent scientific review panel concluded that the mass stranding was primarily triggered by noise originating from a sonar mapping system used by ExxonMobil.In 2008, IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team were asked by NOAA to be part of a response to a mass stranding of melon headed whales in Madagascar.  Following this incident, an independent enquiry was held into the circumstances surrounding the mass stranding, at the request of the Madagascar government. 

The enquiry concluded that ocean noise associated with oil exploration was implicated in this stranding event.

This is the first time such a finding has been made in relation to industrial noise pollution.

Apparently, the story caught the attention of concerned MEPs, who were just considering a revision of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

After some intensive last minute lobbying, the EU parliament voted to include “research and exploration of minerals” among those activities that require Environmental Impact Assessments).

This is a significant step forward in the fight to limit ocean noise and its impact on cetaceans.

It is also a superb example of our desired precautionary approach in action; caring for individuals, the population and the habitat, combine together to make maximum impact for animals, in this case cetaceans.

What’s more, it is wonderful serendipity, with all efforts coming together at the right time to deliver the message to its greatest effect.

While securing EU Parliament support for  Environmental Impact Assessments in the exploratory phase is a significant step, there is more work to be done. In Europe, IFAW will work hard to make sure that European member states agree with the changes proposed by the European parliament.

Counteracting a strong lobby from the oil industry is not an easy task, but our efforts are supported by the independent scientific review panel (ISRP) advice.

Furthermore, IFAW is working to ensure exploration activities in critical whale habitats around Australia, at Sakhalin Island, Russia, on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the U.S., in European waters and in the Middle East benefit from EIA results and that proper mitigation measures are critically evaluated and actually meaningful. 

Thanks to all of you who support our quiet but important work on the ocean noise issue. 

More victories to come!

--BS

For more information about our efforts to protect marine mammals around the world, visit our campaign page.

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Experts

Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Isabel McCrea, Regional Director, Oceania
Regional Director, Oceania
IFAW Japan Representative
IFAW Japan Representative
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Whales
Robbie Marsland, Regional Director, United Kingdom
Regional Director, United Kingdom