IFAW urges action to reduce ocean noise pollution to protect marine mammals

Wednesday, 12 July, 2017
Lisbon, Portugal

Governments and the shipping industry need to take urgent action to stop underwater noise is the message of a new movie Sonic Sea by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and National Defense Council (NRDC) screened today 12th of July in the premises of the Lisbon Aquarium in the Expo Area. The event brings together stakeholders from relevant ministries and marine institutions, shipping industry and port authorities to discuss the threat to marine life and possible solutions.

Marine life exists in a world dominated by sound. Marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, rely on underwater sound for survival; it is essential for communication, navigation, locating prey, avoiding predators, and finding potential mates.  The elevated noise levels, in particular from ships interfere with sounds produced by marine mammals and this causes stress and reduce the ability of these animals to carry out essential life functions. Finally, the underwater noise environment is likely to also affect the risk of collisions between vessels and cetaceans.

From 1950 to 2000, total underwater noise has doubled every 10 years. Increasing levels of noise from shipping, oil and gas exploration, naval sonar training, construction, and other activities have begun to drown out the ocean’s natural sound. The development of worldwide trade has been accompanied by the increase of the world fleet to nearly 90.000 vessels. Ship speed and size have increased because companies aim at economy of scale.

Underwater noise into marine ecosystems and its harmful effects on marine biodiversity have increasingly drawn the attention of the international community. The European Union has included it in its Marine Strategy Framework Directive obliging member states to take measures. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed guidelines to address noise from shipping. Measures to reduce shipping noise exist, from slower steaming to a better design of the propeller, to identifying and replacing the 10% of noisiest ships responsible for 90% of the shipping noise

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) Commissioner for Portugal, Mr. Luis Freitas believes that: “underwater noise remains an undervalued problem, largely due to the lack of knowledge of all its implications for marine life, especially sensitive species such as cetaceans, which depend on sound to communicate and find their food”. And continues: “with the increasing of marine and maritime activities underwater noise is expected to escalate and it is therefore crucial to understand their impacts on marine life and to have measures in place to minimize these.”

Eleonora Panella, Campaign Officer for IFAW states: we call on the industry to make this issue a priority as part of their green commitments or corporate social responsibility objectives. Unlike chemical pollution, noise does not persist in the environment. Thus, if its source of noise is reduced, the amount of noise is immediately lowered. Reducing low frequency ambient noise levels would likely benefit many marine mammals, as well as, some fish and invertebrate species.

IFAW has been working on this topic for many years now, by increasing awareness and promoting measures to reduce the source levels of noise and advocating to eradicate the noisiest activities from critical whale habitats.

We need to start turning down the volume and let cetaceans and marine creatures enjoy their natural noise. 

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