Workshop on mitigating the impact of underwater noise on marine biodiversity, with specific focus on seismic surveys in the southeastern European waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Recommendations for mitigating the impact of underwater noise on marine biodiversity in the south eastern European waters in the Mediterranean Sea

An important workshop on ‘Mitigating the impact of underwater noise on marine biodiversity with specific focus on seismic surveys in the south eastern European waters in the Mediterranean Sea’ took place November 22-23, 2017 in Split, Croatia. The workshop participants discussed the complexity of underwater noise management and mitigation, and developed a series of sixteen priority Recommendations to improve the conservation and protection of marine wildlife in south eastern European waters from the threat of marine noise pollution.

The workshop was attended by 65 participants from 15 countries (see Annex 1), representing various stakeholder groups. They ranged from governmental institutions, such as ministries, nature protection, conservation, and energy agencies, to international organizations, including multilateral, regional, environmental agreements and regional fisheries bodies, to scientists and civil society organisations. All participants attended in their private or observer capacity and, while their participation was welcomed, it was understood that the recommendations stemming from the workshop should not be regarded as entailing any legal or policy expectations on their organisations.

The following 16 Recommendations represent the agreed outcomes of the workshop.

Government regulators, industry and stakeholders are urged to, as appropriate:

Recommendation 1: A Precautionary Approach
Apply a precautionary approach (for instance, incorporating into national legislation, strategies) to future activities that have the potential or are known to have harmful effects on the marine environment,

Recommendation 2: UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on the Oceans and the Law of the Sea
Ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the 19th Meeting of the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on the Oceans and the Law of the Sea (ICP or UNICPOLOS) in June 2018 addresses the various sources of ocean noise pollution, and provides guidance as well as a clear plan for mitigation actions that can be taken by all involved stakeholders.

Recommendation 3: Noise Budget
Explore the concept of a noise budget/threshold for the south eastern European waters in the Mediterranean Sea, in line with the threshold values required under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Recommendation 4: Cumulative Impacts
Address the cumulative impacts of all activities in the ocean, including climate change, through multi-sectoral strategies for countries’ energy, environmental and blue economy policies, especially through the Maritime Spatial Plans to be developed by the EU Member States by 2021.

Recommendation 5: Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs)
Make full use of national multi-sectoral Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) conducted by governments, before any areas are opened for licensing applications to the oil and gas industry.

SEAs and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), which are the assessments specific to proposed activities, should take into account all available information on the potential impact on species, habitats and other marine users (for instance, including the presence of marine mammal habitat as indicated by the identification of scientific advice, such as Important Marine Mammal Areas), as well as legislative and non-legislative commitments that are in place (including, the EU Habitats Directive and MSFD, for example), and should include the opportunity for meaningful and comprehensive public comment.

The information contained in SEAs and EIAs, as well as all collected data should be transparent and available to all stakeholders (for instance, tourism, fisheries), including civil society, in accordance with applicable regulations. Information about past, present and planned noise-generating activities should be submitted to national noise registries and remain publicly accessible, in perpetuity.

Recommendation 6: The CMS Noise EIA Guidelines
Transpose the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) on Environmental Impact Assessment for Marine Noisegenerating Activities (CMS Noise EIA Guidelines) into national legislation or species management plans, bearing in mind the context of the national legal structures, and use the CMS Noise EIA Guidelines as a standardized format to detail what is expected of applicants and assessment milestones. The CMS Noise EIA Guidelines should be adapted and improved according to national expert advice, and with multi-sectoral involvement. If countries don’t have a legal basis to adopt guidelines, prescribing the development of such guidelines can be a useful tool.

Recommendation 7: Limiting Number and Time Frames of Seismic Surveys
Limit the number and time frames for seismic surveys to avoid the seasonal presence of vulnerable species and the duplication of surveys. States should make full use of the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (ESPOO mechanisms) for transboundary consultations. A transparent overview of planned seismic activities should be promoted (for example, by making full use of the MSFD noise registry), to avoid duplication of seismic surveys, and improve transboundary consultation.

Recommendation 8: Best-available Quieting Technologies
Promote the development and mandate the use of best-available quieting technologies, such as Marine Vibroseis, by means of regulatory pressure and requiring operators to demonstrate they are not using sources that are more powerful than necessary and at unnecessary frequencies. This should be a component of each EIA and apply throughout the survey. What is considered necessary should be subject to independent review, as detailed in the CMS Noise EIA Guidelines.

Recommendation 9: Previous, Simultaneous, On-going, and Planned Activities
Take into account previous, simultaneous, on-going, and planned activities in the same or adjoining areas to consider potential cumulative or synergistic impacts, and assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures and monitoring activities for operational reviews prior, during and post-operation, ensuring monitoring results are publicly accessible, as detailed in the CMS Noise EIA Guidelines.

Recommendation 10: Review of SEAs and EIAs
Ensure adequate review of SEAs and EIAs, to maintain a transparent separation of science and politics, and avoid conflicts of commercial interest. This principle is detailed within the CMS Noise EIA Guidelines and supports the provisions in EU Directive 2011/92/EU as amended by 2014/52/EU . Adequate time needs to be scheduled for all stages of the assessment, including the review process and comprehensive public consultation.

Recommendation 11: Spatial and Area Based Management
Develop and update integrated maps showing all IMMAs and marine protected areas as identified by competent bodies and organizations (for instance, national authorities, ACCOBAMS, CBD, GFCM, UNEP-MAP, NATURA 2000, IMMAs, EBSAs, and others) to facilitate spatial and area based management, and to ensure all species and habitats of conservation concern identified by these bodies have equal and appropriate recognition according to their conservation goals.

Recommendation 12: Subsidies
Remove subsidies for the oil and gas industry and spend public money in line with the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Recommendation 13: Monitoring Survey Areas
Ensure the data on the occurrence and distribution of noise-sensitive species required for strategic maritime spatial planning is provided through inventories (for example, Areas of Interest for Important Marine Mammal Areas, Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs), and GFCM Fisheries Restricted Areas) to prioritise where to focus effort, and monitor survey areas where there is a lack of knowledge about the occurrence and distribution of noise-sensitive species and habitats.

Recommendation 14: Best Available Technology and Best Environmental Practice
Prepare a global report on the Best Available Technology (BAT) and Best Environmental Practice (BEP) for the mitigation of underwater anthropogenic noise, and make available to all government agencies, interested stakeholders and civil society in the regions in question, as a supplement to the CMS Noise EIA Guidelines.

Recommendation 15: Knowledge Transfer
Knowledge exchange and information-sharing should take place at the national level (multi-sectoral involvement) and regional level (between different countries in the region), and through an open-access independent scientific network focused on sharing data and monitoring ocean noise in the Mediterranean. The NETCCOBAMS platform developed by ACCOBAMS could be used as a tool for this.

Recommendation 16: Training and Capacity
Address the lack of training and capacity (for instance Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs), Passive Acoustic Monitoring, etc.) in the region, by making use of existing initiatives, such as the ACCOBAMS’s accreditation system for high-quality MMOs, to significantly raise awareness and build support for reducing noise in the marine environment.

December 2017

The 2-day workshop was organised and hosted by OceanCare and NRDC, international nature conservation organisations, and was technically and financially supported by the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU).