NGOs want greater urgency to reduce underwater noise pollution

As a meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC 8) closed January 21 in London, the Clean Arctic Alliance welcomed the meeting’s recognition that the non-mandatory nature of the current eight-year-old IMO guidelines on underwater noise pollution from ships is a key barrier to their implementation, and called on the IMO to develop mandatory measures to reduce the impact of underwater noise on marine wildlife, including whales, dolphins and fish. 

“While the Clean Arctic Alliance is pleased that SDC 8 has identified the non-mandatory nature of the current guidelines on underwater noise as a key barrier to their implementation, the IMO must now urgently develop global mandatory measures to reduce the impacts of underwater noise pollution on the health of marine wildlife, including whales, dolphins and fish”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“The non-mandatory nature of the current guidelines, which have not been updated since 2014, also appear to have led to a de-prioritisation by the shipping sector – and this has resulted in increasing noise levels in the ocean, including the Arctic, where underwater noise from ships has a much greater impact.” 

Sarah Bobbe, Arctic Program Manager of Ocean Conservancy, said: “It is likely that there will be some solutions which will have co-benefits with other areas of IMO’s regulatory responsibilities, in particular efforts to address climate emissions, but only if the rules are stringent enough to trigger the necessary changes in behavior needed to reduce emissions and underwater noise. 

“The inclusion of the need to develop numerical targets and thresholds in the workplan put in place during the meeting is important. This workplan must now be delivered, as a matter of urgency.” 

Dr Prior concluded: “Ultimately, the IMO must agree to the development of mandatory measures so that the overall failure to reduce underwater noise is addressed globally. 

“The meeting also recognized that in addition to global measures, even more stringent regional measures to reduce acoustic pollution from vessels in areas such as the Arctic will be necessary. The Arctic is a special case for underwater noise because of how sound propagates over long distances and how it can impact marine life and Inuit communities who depend on wildlife and the sea for livelihoods and culture.”

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