The limitations of current regulation of ocean noise, particularly noise generated during seismic surveys were exposed in a recent paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment by Dr. Nowacek and colleagues. They wrote of the need of a new paradigm to address the impacts of noise pollution on marine habitats and life. WDC agrees.
Gas and oil exploration activities are expanding around seas and oceans of the world due to increasing demands on energy from (mostly) developed countries. This poses risks to marine mammals, including whales and dolphins, due to the high, and in some areas almost continuous, levels of noise introduced by seismic surveys. Cetaceans rely on sounds to navigate, communicate, find preys, among others, and such high levels of noise may mask relevant signals altering biologically relevant behaviors, or even induce physical damages. While national or regional regulations exist in many countries, the authors propose that international regulation measures should be implemented. For us this seems to be a good approach when many activities involve vessels navigating through different countries, introducing noise that may travel thousands of miles without distinguishing national boundaries and possibly affecting migratory species, such as whales which may be ‘protected’ in some areas and yet injured in others.
One of the biggest problems of current regulations is that they often consider just one source of noise, like airguns for seismic surveys, without taking into account all the other sources associated with such activities like e.g. vessel noise, or other possible noise sources associated to other activities in the area such as shipping, military exercises, constructions, etc.
The new standards advocated by this group of prestigious scientists and members of environmental organizations include a more global approach of ocean noise pollution, considering relevant baseline data of the ecosystems, cumulative long-term impacts of several noise sources and probabilistic measures that account for uncertainty in noise levels generated by anthropogenic activities and also in their associated impacts on marine life.
Several Conventions concerning cetaceans currently include anthropogenic ocean noise in their agendas, such as ACCOBAMS, ASCOBANS, CMS, IWC. A good way to move forward might be that governmental agencies, scientist, members of civil organizations and stakeholders could discuss about the creation of legally binding international commitments to reduce ocean noise – within a predetermined timeframe.