IUCN Adopts Resolution on Undersea Noise Pollution

World Conservation Union (IUCN) Adopts Resolution on Undersea Noise Pollution

Bangkok, Thailand (November 24, 2004) - The World Conservation Union (IUCN) adopted a significant resolution that recognizes noise as a form of pollution; calls on governments to apply the precautionary principle in assessing the impacts of noise generated by commercial, military, and industrial activities; and to avoid the use of powerful noise sources in habitat fop vulnerable species and in areas where marine mammals or endangered species may be concentrated.

The Resolution also acknowledges that ocean noise degrades habitat and has adverse effects on marine life ranging from disturbance to injury and mortality, and expresses concern that over the last century, the world's oceans have become polluted by acoustic energy from many human activities, including oil and gas exploration, commercial shipping, and military testing and training.  The Resolution cites reports of mass strandings and deaths of cetaceans coincident with the use of military sonar and with the use of technologies in mineral exploration and 'greatly troubling'.

The Resolution further states that it is aware that some types of anthropogenic noise can travel hundreds and even thousands of miles underwater and, like other forms of pollution, are not restricted by national boundaries.  It welcomes steps taken by governments to alleviate the impact of anthropogenic noise on marine species, but notes that many sources of intense noise are not presently subject to mitigation and that few protected areas are managed for noise impacts. The Resolution refers to measures on ocean noise taken by other bodies including the International Maritime Organization, the International Whaling Commission, ASCOBANS, and ACCOBAMS.

Specifically, the Resolution requests that the IUCN promote new measures for reducing the impacts of anthropogenic noise pollution on marine species and habitat and to ensure that such pollution is addressed; to take account of noise pollution and its impact on species and biodiversity in preparing the IUCN Red List (of threatened species); to develop research projects and management recommendations that advance the conservation of marine species in light of such pollution; to consider anthropogenic noise in work related to marine and coastal protected areas and specifically in assessments of the conservation status of World Heritage sites; to make recommendations on legal and policy issues arising out of the international management of undersea noise pollution.

The Resolution entreats all governments to:

  • apply the Precautionary Principle in assessing and mitigating the potential impacts of noise generated by commercial, military, and industrial activities;

  • to investigate mass strandings and deaths of marine mammals that are associated with the use of intense anthropogenic noise in a publicly open, inclusive, and transparent manner;

  • encourage the development of alternative technologies and require the use of best available control technologies and other mitigation measures in reducing impacts from individual noise sources;

  • limit the use of powerful noise sources until their short-term and long-term effects are better understood, and, to the maximum extent possible, to avoid the use of such sources in habitat of vulnerable species and in areas where marine mammals or endangered species may be concentrated;

  • consider noise restrictions in their management guidelines for marine and coastal protected areas; and

  • work together with national and international non-governmental organizations and with the scientific community in accomplishing these goals.

Finally the Resolution urges governments of MARPOL countries to support development of an annex for the control of undersea shipping noise; Members of the European Union (EU) to recognize that underwater noise is a potential source of disturbance to certain marine species and to ensure that the EU's Marine Strategy addresses the regulation of harmful noise in the marine environment; and also urges Parties to the Regional Seas Agreements coordinated by the United Nations Environment Program, or to other regional marine agreements and conventions, to include the control of anthropogenic noise pollution in their strategies, action plans, and measures for the preservation of habitats and the conservation of marine biological diversity.

Notably, the United States, one of the world's leading authorities and one of the largest contributors to man-made ocean noise, decided not to participate in the discussions.  The US Department of State provided the following statement for the record:

The United States shares the underlying concerns with the potential effects of anthropogenic ocean sound on marine life and would like a number of clarifying points included in the Record.

  • We recognize that some anthropogenic ocean sound may have adverse effects, ranging from chronic to acute, on marine life.

  • The United States is a leader in funding research on all aspects of the issue.

  • The United States is a leader in implementing science-based management programs to assess and mitigate the adverse effects of some anthropogenic sound on marine mammals and endangered and threatened species.

  • The United States supports continued reliance upon science in making regulatory decisions about activities associated with anthropogenic ocean sound.

  • The United States encourages an international approach to advance scientific understanding of this issue and to promote science-based means of addressing adverse effects.

State and agency members United States refrained from engaging in deliberations on this motion and took no national government position on the motion as adopted for reasons given in the US General Statement on the IUCN Resolution Process.

For the resolution in full click here IUCN RES053.

For the World Conservation Union Website click here.


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