The EU Commission has set new limits for underwater noise—a growing threat to the health and lives of whales, dolphins and many other marine species.
The move is hailed as a significant step to help Member States achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) for the ocean in their jurisdiction.
“This is a necessary and long awaited first step, finally pushing for action to address this pervasive and invisible pollutant,” said Ilaria Di Silvestre, Head of EU Policy & Campaigns at IFAW.
“Effective implementation by Member States is now crucial in order to fulfil commitments to protect marine life under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. If well implemented, this could set a precedent worldwide.”
A technical working group was tasked to agree on ways to set limits for underwater noise. Experts differentiate between impulsive noise that is emitted e.g. during offshore construction or oil exploration activities and continuous noise. The main source of continuous noise is commercial shipping, which dominates the ocean soundscape globally.
GES for EU waters should have been achieved by 2020, but Members States failed to accomplish it for underwater noise. With the new thresholds set, Member States now have a way to assess GES with respect to underwater noise. Marine areas will be divided into Marine Reporting Units, which each Member State will define for itself. Thresholds for noise will then be set in relation to the chosen indicator species in that area.
“It will be a challenge for Member States to define suitable indicator species and effectively implement the newly adopted noise thresholds. IFAW calls on the EC to provide clear guidance to Member States on effective measures to reduce underwater noise,” said Di Silvestre
“The Blue Speeds initiative is an obvious measure to reduce underwater noise pollution from shipping, while also decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and benefiting the maritime economy,”
“Implementing Blue Speeds will provide an economic and efficient way of lowering ship speeds to reduce levels of continuous noise, with the potential for far-reaching structural changes by supporting a transformation of the shipping industry. This initiative will greatly help Member States to implement new underwater noise limits and the EU to honour international obligations”.