• 2023 January 23 18:14

    SDC9: NGOS call on UN shipping body reduce underwater noise impact on marine life

    The IMO must this week agree on an effective program of action and next steps to mitigate underwater noise from ships

    The Clean Arctic Alliance today called for urgent action to address the impact of underwater noise from ships on Arctic wildlife, as a meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction opens in London (SDC 9, 23-27 January).

    A previous IMO meeting, MEPC 76 in June 2021, tasked the Ship Design and Construction (SDC) Sub-committee with revising the IMO’s 2014 Guidelines on the Reduction of Underwater Noise from Shipping, and to identify next steps and a program of action to further prevent and reduce underwater noise. Subsequent work of the SDC committee identified the barriers that have limited the uptake and implementation of the 2014 guidelines – chief among these barriers is the non-mandatory nature of the guidelines.

    During this week’s meeting, a paper submitted by Canada (SDC 9/5/1) proposes that a working group be established during SDC 9 to complete the review of the guidelines, and to also focus discussions on prioritising the development of a program of action and identification of next steps to best reduce underwater noise. This work could then be presented at MEPC 80 in July 2023.

    A survey of the commercial shipping industry, conducted in 2019 by Environics Research and the World Maritime University, overseen by Transport Canada, the Chamber of Shipping of America, and WWF Canada, found that the non-regulatory/non-mandatory nature of the guidelines was a primary barrier to uptake. SDC 8, held in January 2022, a Working Group confirmed these findings when it agreed that the lack of regulations was a key barrier and was limiting uptake of the guidelines.

    The Inuit Circumpolar Council’s submission (SDC 9/5/3) asks SDC to add a stand-alone section or annex to the guidelines related to operations in the Arctic which the Clean Arctic Alliance supports, and also suggests the Sub-Committee consider mandatory measures within the program of action. This proposal for an Arctic annex is a direct result of work coming out of the Correspondence Group on the Review of the Underwater Noise Guidelines, which was instructed to: “enable engagement of Inuit and other Indigenous communities and the incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge” in the updating of the guidelines.

    About Underwater Noise
    For many marine organisms sound is the most important means of communication. Under water, vision is very restricted and without good hearing ability, elementary functions such as navigating, finding prey and partners can be hampered. This is of particular importance for marine mammals.

    The Arctic has been almost free of anthropogenic sound for a long time, but with increased human activity, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more noisy every year. An important source of continuous underwater noise is shipping, more specifically the propeller and the engine. Since shipping has increased substantially during the last couple of decades, underwater noise is becoming an increasing problem, contributing to serious impact on the Arctic ecosystem. A number of Arctic species including the narwhal and beluga whales are particularly sensitive to anthropogenic noise.


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