According to the 2008 European legislation of the Marine Directive, European governments must take action in several areas, to make seas clean and healthy again by 2020. One of these areas is underwater noise, which should be reduced to levels that do not adversely affect the marine environment.

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The report raises concerns that despite evidence that noise sources are damaging marine species, from large whales to small zooplankton, some governments continue to call for further research instead of taking action.

Sound levels in the ocean are increasing, causing a possible irreversible damage to marine wildlife, including stress, deafness, habitat displacement, reduced reproduction and feeding opportunities and even death.

Noise emissions are also linked to the fatal stranding of whales and dolphins on beaches, as well as to high rates of mortality in krill.

Eleonora Panella, campaigner for IFAW, notes:

Ten years have passed since the Marine Directive has been adopted. It seems most States have just talked the talk rather than implementing precise conservation action to reduce noise levels in our oceans

The European Commission had declared in August 2018 that European countries could fail their legally binding commitment to tackle human threats to the marine environment by 2020. Nonetheless, EU governments have not imposed a reduction on the speed of ships, which would address the problem off underwater noise, the report says.

However, there is a silver lining. This lies on the renewable energy sector, which with support from some EU governments, is leading the fight against noise pollution by using technologies to reduce noise levels caused by pile driving, a practice applied during offshore windfarm construction.

We need a clear strategy on phasing out seismic activities which are undertaken to search for new oil and gas resources within the seabed. Until then, less noisy technologies should be employed

Seas at Risk stated.

To mitigate underwater noise issues, OceanCare, IFAW, Seas at Risk and NRDC, recommend governments to:

  1. Impose ship speed reductions to reduce noise pollution, ship strikes with whales and greenhouse gas emissions and start the process of developing binding rules for the quieting of ships, based on the existing guidelines of the IMO;
  2. Require the development and use of quieter technological alternatives and best available technologies for pile driving and seismic surveying;
  3. Require robust, comprehensive and transparent Environmental Impact Assessments for all noise-generating activities at sea, drawing on the already adopted guidelines of the Convention on Migratory Species;
  4. Identify and set noise exclusion zones and alternative shipping routes, including the designation of noise buffer zones around sensitive habitat.

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