Underwater noise: Milestones on the way to quieter oceans

Since 2002, OceanCare has been committed to making the oceans quieter. Below you will find a selection of developments and successes where the marine conservation organisation, together with its coalition partners, has played a key role.


The United Nations adopts the text of the new BBNJ Agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which closes important ocean governance gaps in the high seas and will regulate the protection and conservation of biodiversity in international waters. OceanCare has been involved in the BBNJ negotiation process since 2007.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS/Bonn Convention) publishes the technical report prepared by OceanCare expert, Dr Lindy Weilgart, which shows how the commercial shipping, oil and gas and wind energy industries can reduce and avoid underwater noise.


According to OceanCare’s recommendations, at the CBD Conference of the Parties, it was decided that measures should be taken to minimise or avoid underwater noise emissions.

As part of the implementation of its Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the EU set limits for noise emissions in European waters, in keeping with a proposal made by the European Commission and the EU’s technical working group on underwater noise, in which OceanCare is involved.

The Follow-Up Committee of the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS) upholds four formal complaints by OceanCare regarding among others failure to conduct an environmental impact assessment prior to seismic activities, and shortcomings in the implementation of binding measures to protect whales and dolphins from active sonar military manoeuvres. The committee calls on the ACCOBAMS parties to reliably implement applicable resolutions and guidelines.

At the second UN Ocean Conference, OceanCare organises side events and provides expert knowledge on underwater noise pollution and shipping. In the plenary hall, OceanCare reads out a plea co-signed by numerous partner organisations to curb underwater noise.

The IWC Conservation Committee decides to conduct a survey of all planned marine seismic exploration for fossil fuels worldwide.


Spain bans oil and gas exploration in national waters.

In its report „Quiet Waters“, OceanCare presents a conservation action plan for noise reduction in the marine protected area between the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland.

The Environmental Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) votes to revise the guideline for the reduction of underwater noise caused by ships in 2022.

OceanCare´s published report “Deep-Sea Mining: A Noisy Affair” represents the first analysis of the potential consequences of noise-generating activities that would result from the commercialisation of deep-sea mining and provides recommendations for action for decision makers.

At the Conference of the Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), OceanCare presents its socio-economic study on the impact of noise generated by fishing activities in the central Adriatic. The decision is made to extend the study to other sources of noise and replicate it in other sensitive regions of the Mediterranean.


An analysis prepared by OceanCare together with other environmental organisations, including BUND, Coalition Clean Baltic, IFAW and Seas at Risk, reveals how inadequately the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive is being implemented and how EU member states are failing to effectively reduce underwater noise.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea includes underwater noise as transboundary marine pollution in its second assessment of the state of the oceans (World Ocean Assessment).


The Barcelona Convention declares the marine protected area between the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland as Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI).

The States bordering the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea commit to implementing the CMS Guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessments before licensing noise-intensive underwater activities. This resolution was prompted, among other reasons, by complaints initiated by OceanCare against some states in response to their seismic activities.

OceanCare and the Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) conduct a workshop on the impact of underwater noise on fish and invertebrates and its socio-economic consequences, and develop recommendations to be presented at the GFCM Conference of the Parties. The Fisheries Commission decides to conduct a corresponding study.


Spain´s government declares the species-rich corridor between the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland, through which many whales migrate, a marine protected area.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea dedicates a conference to underwater noise. Nicolas Entrup and Dr Lindy Weilgart are the invited experts and keynote speakers.

OceanCare publishes a meta-study on the impact of noise on fish and marine invertebrates.


At a workshop organised by OceanCare and NRDC, and supported by the German Federal Foundation for the Environment, 65 representatives from 15 countries from the fields of politics, science, tourism, environmental and marine protection develop an action plan for noise reduction in the south-eastern Mediterranean Sea.

OceanCare succeeds in getting the UN to mention underwater noise, if not as a form of pollution, then at least as a stress factor, in its action plan for achieving its Sustainable Development Goal 14 “Life under Water”.

The signatory States to the Bonn Convention adopt guidelines relating to environmental impact assessments to be conducted prior to noise-intensive activities. The preparation of these guidelines was co-facilitated by independent experts from OceanCare.


OceanCare experts are co-authors of the study “Overview of the Noise Hotpots in the ACCOBAMS Area”, the first comprehensive survey of noise-generating activities in the Mediterranean Sea.

The oil company Cairn Energy bows to the protests initiated by OceanCare and Alianza Mar Blava and abandons its plans for oil exploration in the Gulf of Valencia.

The US Navy, under pressure from NRDC, OceanCare and various other organisations, suspends sonar operations in the waters around Hawaii and off the coast of California for a period of three years.


Protests by OceanCare and its partner organisation lead to the suspension of planned developments of new oil wells in the Croatian Adriatic, off the Canary Islands and around Kangaroo Island.

OceanCare presents its report “Quiet Zones” to the ACCOBAMS Member States and calls for noise reduction in three particularly sensitive areas of the Mediterranean Sea.


OceanCare is working with partners to ensure that the noise-sensitive Cuvier’s beaked whale is granted the highest international protection status by the Member States of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species.

More than 210,000 people sign a protest launched by OceanCare and AVAAZ against the planned oil exploration off the coast of Ibiza.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) issues non-binding guidelines for reducing the noise of commercial ships.

A revision of the EU Directive on Environmental Impact Assessments now also requires such assessments to be carried out prior to seismic exploration.


Under the auspices of OceanCare, the Silent Oceans campaign to curb underwater noise is launched, and joined by 27 international partner organisations.

The ACCOBAMS signatory states adopt a resolution paving the way for environmental impact assessments to become mandatory in the agreement area prior to seismic exploration.


The United Nations Economic and Social Council grants OceanCare UN Special Consultative Status on marine issues.

The Parties to the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS/Bonn Convention) commit to noise reduction in marine protected areas.


The Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) commit to identifying measures to protect marine species from the impact of underwater noise. An OceanCare expert has co-authored a scientific thesis on underwater noise.


The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) recognises the harmful impact of ship noise and initiates the development of guidelines for quieter shipping.


OceanCare, NRDC and the International Ocean Noise Coalition (IONC) prevent the US marine authorities and the US military from deploying sonar in Hawaiian waters.


OceanCare is responsible for drafting the chapter on underwater noise and its consequences for marine life for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation´s Ocean Atlas.


The UN General Assembly recognises underwater noise as one of the five greatest threats to marine mammals and one of the ten greatest threats to the oceans as a whole.


OceanCare raises the issue of underwater noise during the informal consultative process of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and succeeds in getting the United Nations to address the problem for the first time.

OceanCare and IONC stop seismic testing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The EU Parliament passes, by a large majority, a resolution for a ban on active low and medium frequency military sonar systems to detect submarines in EU waters. Spain subsequently bans the use of such sonar off the coast of the Canary Islands, with the result that there have been no more atypical strandings of marine mammals since then.


OceanCare is a co-founder of the International Ocean Noise Coalition (IONC), which is supported by 150 organisations worldwide. The coalition calls for a moratorium on high-power military sonar in EU waters.

After receiving OceanCare´s petition and having a face-to-face meeting with OceanCare experts and Members of the European Parliament at their headquarters in Brussels, NATO rules that prior to military sonar tests, whale sightings will be conducted to determine if whales and dolphins are located nearby. If so, they should generally be driven away from the test area by means of gradually increasing sounds.