EU Member States had obliged themselves to achieve ‘Good Environmental Status’ in their European marine waters by the end of 2020. This status was to be assessed in terms of healthy wildlife populations, shifts towards sustainable fisheries, less pollution, less noise, and other descriptors. While some progress was made, the goal was missed by far.

A coalition of conservation NGOs, including OceanCare, BUND, IFAW, Coalition Clean Baltic, and Seas at Risk, now jointly addresses the environmental ministers of EU member states to remind them of their legal obligations, and in particular calls on tangible measures to reduce underwater noise.

While the Member States focused on measuring, the organisations demand resolute steps for reducing underwater noise. Both high-intensity noise sources – such as airguns in hydrocarbon exploration, military sonar for submarine detection, or industrial activities – and constant noise emissions from cargo shipping and other sources pollute the ocean, which is a largely acoustic habitat.

The specific demands by the conservation organisations include

  1. a ban on the use of air guns in fossil fuel exploration; these are among the loudest sources of man-made underwater noise. Additionally, a ban on fossil fuel extraction would help meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
  2. a reduction in ship speed, proven to reduce noise levels. This measure would also have additional environmental benefits, such as reductions in CO2 and soot emissions.
  3. limits on the avoidable use of active sonar systems by navies
  4. Europe-wide noise reduction strategies wherever underwater noise cannot be avoided.

These demands are in line with the conclusions of a recent expert paper (“Underwater Noise – The neglected threat to marine life”), to which OceanCare experts have contributed.

Here you can find the letter addressed to the Environmental Ministers of EU Member States.