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Managing and Regulating Underwater Noise Pollution

Abstract

Over the last decade the issue of underwater noise pollution has received increased attention from scientific bodies, the media, NGOs, and institutions at the national, supranational and international levels. This in turn, has led to the development of several regulatory initiatives that seek to mitigate the negative impact of this source of pollution. This article outlines and analyses existing legislation and management regimes that govern marine activities that generate noise. Best practices and specific mitigation measures are also addressed and assessed.

Keywords

  • Underwater noise pollution
  • Anthropogenic noise input
  • Underwater sound
  • Sonar
  • Pile driving
  • Whale watching
  • Seismic surveys
  • Air guns
  • Shipping
  • Off-shore constructions
  • Offshore infrastructures
  • Precautionary approach
  • Marine environment
  • Marine mammals
  • Marine life

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Notes

  1. 1.

    E.g. see BBC, Earth News, Reporting Life on Earth, 1 June, 2010, available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8708000/8708318.stm.

  2. 2.

    In 2005, the UNGA encouraged further studies on the impacts of ocean noise on marine living resources ( UNGA 2005, para.84). From then on, every year’s UNGA Resolutions on “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” have identified “ocean noise” as an important topic, being the last one in 2014 (UNGA 2014: 237–238); EP 2005).

  3. 3.

    See for instance, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (USA East Coast) www.orcalab.org; Puget Soundscape (USA); Ocean Tracking Network, www.oceantrackingnetwork.org (Canada); LIDO—Listening to Deep Ocean Environment (Mediterranean), www.esonet-noe.org.

  4. 4.

    At the international level, the meaning and content of the principle is still disputed. E.g. it remains open what these “measures to prevent damage” should be, how strong they should be, or even which scientific evidence would be sufficient to override arguments for postponing such measures. (Birnie et al. 2009, p.162; Sands 2012, p. 222).

  5. 5.

    Italics have been inserted by the authors.

  6. 6.

    Italics have been inserted by the authors.

  7. 7.

    There are measures addressing noise input at the national level (see below).

  8. 8.

    It is yet unclear, however, to what extent such a regulation would be necessary. The cases where noise entering the sea from air adversely affects marine fauna seem relatively few. If regulation would be necessary, this could rather be developed under special or regional regimes. Regarding the effects see, for example, Patenaude et al. 2002.

  9. 9.

    Since the IWC 1998, underwater noise has been a priority topic for the IWC 1998.

  10. 10.

    Further analyses are provided by, for example, Scott 2004; Scott 2007: 179; Schachten 2011; Van Dyke et al. 2004; Dotinga & Elferink 2000: 155–167.

  11. 11.

    It was first established in 2012 as the joint ACCOBAMS/ASCOBANS Noise Working Group. The CMS was included in 2014. See ASCOBANS 2014c. Also see: http://www.ascobans.org/es/species/threats/underwater%20noise.

  12. 12.

    See at www.ats.aq.

  13. 13.

    For a definition of “Range State”, see CMS article I.1.h.

  14. 14.

    These are migratory species which have an unfavourable conservation status and which require international agreements for their conservation and management, as well as those which have a conservation status which would significantly benefit from the international co-operation that could be achieved by an international agreement, See article IV (1) CMS.

  15. 15.

    “Proportion of days and their distribution within a calendar year over areas of a determined surface, as well as their spatial distribution, in which anthropogenic sound sources exceed levels that are likely to entail significant impact on marine animals measured as Sound Exposure Level (in dB re 1μPa.s) or as peak sound pressure level (in dB re 1μPa peak) at one meter, measured over the frequency band 10 Hz to 10 kHz (11.1.1)”.

  16. 16.

    Trends in the ambient noise level within the 1/3 octave bands 63 and 125 Hz (centre frequency) (re 1μΡa RMS; average noise level in these octave bands over a year) measured by observation stations and/or with the use of models if appropriate (11.2.1). For further information see Van der Graaf et al. 2012.

  17. 17.

    The JNCC has produced statutory guidelines for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from seismic activities, piling and explosive use which are frequently set as license conditions (JNCC 2010a, b, B74).

  18. 18.

    Most national whale-watching rules and non-binding guidelines are collected and made available by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), (See ACCOBAMS-SC8/2012/Inf 12).

  19. 19.

    According to Sect. 52.3.3 of the JNCC-Guidelines the soft-start is defined as the time that air guns commence shooting until full operational power is obtained. Power should be built up slowly from a low energy start-up (e.g. starting with the smallest air gun in the array and gradually adding in others) over at least 20 min to give adequate time for marine mammals to leave the area. This build up of power should occur in uniform stages to provide a constant increase in output. A Critical approach to the JNCC Guidelines can be found in Parsons et al. 2009.

  20. 20.

    ORDEN PRE/969/ 2008 N° 4 says: “Prohibition of military exercises involving the conduction of underwater explosions or use of low frequency sonars” (Authors’ translation). In addition, in response to whale stranding incidents the Spanish Ministry of Defense has agreed with the Regional Government of the Canary Islands that based on scientific advice it would establish a list of areas where sonar tests could be carried out in general (Schachten 2011: 100).

  21. 21.

    Both initiatives were inspired in a Report of the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee (ACCOBAMS-MOP5/2013/Doc.22, p 21).

  22. 22.

    This holds particularly true where standards are developed within the framework of provisions such as article 208(2), 2010(6), 211(2) or of the UNCLOS. These provisions requires that states establish international standards and recommended practices and that states have to follow these standards when adopting national laws and regulations to deal with pollution. See, for example, in the context of indigenous peoples rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights hvas held that Environmental and Social Impact Assessments shall be conducted in conformity with relevant international standards and best practices like the Akwé: Kon Guidelines (Saramaka case, para. 41).

  23. 23.

    See Section 3.2.1 above.

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Markus, T., Sánchez, P.P.S. (2018). Managing and Regulating Underwater Noise Pollution. In: Salomon, M., Markus, T. (eds) Handbook on Marine Environment Protection . Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60156-4_52

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