Sleeping adult sperm whales surrounding calves as they doze at 5m depth, Commonwealth of Dominica under government-issued permit © Arun Madisetti
Bonn, 8 June 2023 – On World Oceans Day, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) released a landmark report aimed at addressing a major threat to marine species: noise pollution.
Noise pollution is known to cause significant disturbance to marine wildlife, including migratory species protected under CMS such as whales and dolphins (and their prey). Such impacts can result in adverse changes to entire marine ecosystems.
Animals exposed to elevated or prolonged anthropogenic noise can suffer direct injury and temporary or permanent auditory threshold shifts, compromising their communication and ability to detect threats and find food, sometimes leading to death. Anthropogenic noise can displace wild animals from critical habitats, including from their migration routes, and mask important natural sounds, such as the call of a mate.
The report focuses on three major sources of noise pollution: shipping, seismic airgun surveys (used in oil and gas exploration) and pile driving (used for offshore wind farms and other marine infrastructure). It provides, for the first time, practical guidance on the Best Available Technology (BAT) and Best Environmental Practice (BEP) to reduce noise from these activities.
“Marine wildlife – including both migratory species and their prey – rely on sound for vital life functions, including communication, prey and predator detection, and orientation. But our oceans have become increasingly noisy, resulting in significant harm to marine species. This new report provides essential guidance on how to reduce noise to safeguard our marine species.”
Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of CMS
Solutions to mitigate three important sources of noise pollution: shipping, seismic airgun surveys and pile driving
The report highlights the application of quieting technologies that reduce sound at the source as the most effective way to reduce the negative impacts of underwater noise on marine wildlife. These quieting methods and practices may also have additional benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the mitigation of climate change – another major threat to marine wildlife.
“There is an abundance of evidence that underwater noise pollution is a problem for many marine species—there have been documented impacts on at least 150 species to date. Quieting technologies that reduce the noise at source will go furthest in reducing these impacts. Governments, such as Germany, that have set noise limits have spurred technological innovations for quieter alternatives.”
Dr. Lindy Weilgart, author of the report and ocean noise expert at OceanCare and Dalhousie University
Despite the application of best available quieting technologies, certain activities may still have an impact on marine life, and therefore further mitigation measures are often necessary. These could include avoiding areas or particular times of the year that are critical for wildlife, performing detailed environmental assessments before conducting surveys, effective regulation, strong enforcement, robust monitoring and research to improve our understanding of the impacts of underwater noise.
Noise pollution: a hidden threat that wreaks havoc on marine wildlife
From the smallest plankton to the largest whales, noise pollution disrupts the harmonious underwater symphony that marine species create and rely on for survival. Noise pollution is not only detrimental to the health and disruptive to the natural behaviour of marine species, but it can also impact their critical life processes such as reproduction and feeding.
While much of the research on the impact of marine noise focuses on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), a wide range of other species including the polar bear, sirenians (the Dugong and manatees), pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walrus), marine turtles, marine otters, fish, crustaceans and cephalopods are known to be affected by human-made noise.
With the intensification of human activities in the ocean, underwater noise pollution is escalating at an alarming rate. A study published in the Journal Science in 2021, showed that shipping has led to a 32-fold increase in low-frequency noise along major shipping routes in the past 50 years.
Unchecked noise pollution is not only a major threat for marine wildlife, but can also have grave implications for human livelihoods, notably through impacts on fisheries. Millions of people across the globe depend on oceans for their sustenance and economic survival. Failure to address this issue could have devastating effects on the marine food chain and, subsequently, on fisheries and human communities reliant on these resources.
Countries and industry have an important role to play in addressing noise pollution
A number of important decisions and resolutions passed by countries under international treaties – such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – call for and encourage the use of the Best Available Techniques/Technologies (BAT) and Best Environmental Practice (BEP) compiled in this report.
To address the significant impacts of noise pollution on many migratory species protected under CMS (and their prey), CMS Parties outlined the necessary mitigation actions in Resolution 12.14 Adverse Impacts of Anthropogenic Noise on Cetaceans and Other Migratory Species.
Regional conventions like the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) and the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention) also advocate for the implementation of BAT and BEP – along with agreements targeting specific species like the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS).
ACCOBAMS, ASCOBANS and CMS have also established the Joint Noise Working Group (JNWG) to support the Parties and scientific and advisory bodies of the three conservation treaties in implementing relevant policies and to ensure progress towards mitigating underwater noise. Following the JNWG’s consultations with industry experts on the technical feasibility of proposed mitigation measures and alternative technologies, a new Industry Advisory Group (IAG) was created, with experts from relevant industries such as the shipping sector, the oil and gas industry, shoreline developers, offshore extractors and marine renewable energy companies.
Later this year, in October, CMS Parties will convene at the 14th meeting of the CMS Conference of the Parties, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. This meeting will be the first global biodiversity gathering since the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, and will address many important conservation priorities, including action needed for more effective mitigation of marine noise.
Addressing marine noise is of global importance and provides an opportunity for countries to contribute to the new Global Biodiversity Framework and the UN Decade of Oceans Science for Sustainable Development.
Notes to Editors:
This report, published as a CMS Technical Series, was prepared for the CMS Secretariat by Dr. Linda Weilgart, marine biologist at OceanCare and Dalhousie University. OceanCare is an international marine conservation organization, based in Switzerland, and official Partner of the CMS and ACCOBAMS.
The report was mandated by the 13th Conference of the Parties to CMS as an output of the Joint Noise Working Group (JNWG) and aims to assist Parties and industry by providing an up-to-date overview of the currently available Best Available Technology (BAT) and Best Environmental Practice (BEP) for mitigating noise from shipping, seismic airgun surveys and pile driving.
The author presented some of the core conclusions and recommendations from this report at the United Nations open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (5-9 June 2023, New York) as part of the ‘New Maritime Technologies: Challenges and Opportunities’ panel.
Link to the Report:
Recent Relevant CMS Resolutions:
CMS Agreements, MOUs and other International Organizations addressing Marine Noise:
Social Media Accounts:
About the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)
An environmental treaty of the United Nations, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats. This unique treaty brings governments and wildlife experts together to address the conservation needs of terrestrial, aquatic and avian migratory species and their habitats around the world. Since the Convention's entry into force in 1979, its membership has grown steadily to include 132 Parties from Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
About the Joint Noise Working Group
CMS, ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS benefit jointly from the advice provided by a specialized Working Group. Following the earlier work of ACCOBAMS and ASCOBANS, the Joint Noise Working Group (JNWG) was expanded to include CMS in 2014. It was established to support the Parties and scientific and advisory bodies of the three conservation treaties in the implementation of relevant resolutions to ensure progress is being made towards mitigating the negative impact of underwater noise on cetaceans and other marine biota.
Group members include experts from the fields of science, policy and relevant civil society organizations. The JNWG is co-chaired by Sigrid Lüber (OceanCare) and Yanis Souami (SINAY).
For more information please contact:
Aydin Bahramlouian, Public Information Officer, Joint Communications Unit of the CMS and AEWA Secretariats, email: [email protected]
Last updated on 08 June 2023