Underwater noise discussed for first time at European Parliament

Sonic Sea (by IFAW, NRDC, and Imaginary Forces) is a feature length award-winning documentary that highlights the destructive impact of underwater noise pollution on marine mammals.

IFAW has been screening Sonic Sea in locations around the world, including in several European cities, since its creation. We consider our screening of this movie at the European Parliament on 26 June, which was attended by the European Commission Directorate General for Environment, a great achievement. An achievement that we hope will steer the implementation of the emblematic Marine Strategy Framework Directive, (MSFD), which was adopted 10 years ago with the overall objective of achieving or maintaining Good Environmental Status (GES) of 11 descriptors within EU waters by 2020. Underwater noise forms part of two indicators (11.1.1 and 11.2.1) within Descriptor 11 and consequently EU Member States must ensure that anthropogenic underwater noise levels do not adversely affect the marine environment. In the context of the MSFD, clearer measures are required to reduce the impacts of anthropogenic noise on the marine environment and Member States were requested to develop a programme of measures for each of the MSFD descriptors listed. These programme of measures are currently being analysed by the European Commission and will be published in a summary report this summer.

Therefore, the timing of this screening, along with the following roundtable discussion with prominent experts, provided IFAW with the opportunity to discuss this important topic with the EU was both striking and opportune.

Panelists Mr. Russell Leaper (IFAW Scientist) and Mr. Nicolas Entrup (Shifting Values Campaigner), agreed that underwater noise affects the whole ecosystem and both provided a comprehensive and complete overview of anthropogenic ocean noise which affect the environment.

Mr. Leaper affirmed that the noisiest 15% of ships contribute more than 50% of the total noise energy within the oceans, and that reducing ship speed would not only benefit vessel fuel efficiency but also have a positive impact on the marine environment through the consequent significant reduction of noise energy emitted from such.

The Commission is indeed encouraging Member States to do more on this issue and to fully implement related EU legislation. As they said “We are still not there” and there is the need to “really work from all sides: regional[ly], national[ly] with stakeholders and [with] industry.

The last presentation garnered also much interest as it was given by the industry representative Captain Wolfram Guntermann from the well-known shipping company Hapag–Lloyd. Hapag-Lloyd created groundbreaking initiatives to reduce the noise levels of their fleet and are also working hard to reduce ship strike collisions with whales, including in the North Atlantic (home to the highly endangered right whale) and in the Santa Barbara Channel. These steps prove that if shipping companies are willing to change and retrofit their vessels accordingly they can do providing huge benefits for both their fleets and the marine environment.

As one of the event’s NGO participants pointed out, there are already very clear measures within Article 1.1 that can be adopted immediately, and which do not require more knowledge or further research. “What are you doing to make sure that Member States implement this Directive on time?” - the closing remarks from the European Parliament are auspicious. IFAW is encouraged that further actions will be taken from this chamber, to invite more active involvement from Member States and ensure that the clear deadline of 2020 is respected.

It is now clear that Member States have to take this descriptor more seriously than they did prior. For example, it was suggested during the event that a Noise Registry should be implemented as a managment rather than a monitoring tool.

The 2020 deadline requiring full implemention is very close, however, we are still very far away.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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