Shipping noise and marine mammals. A background paper. International Workshop on Shipping Noise and Marine Mammals.

Open Access Report 2008

Foundation for the Sea

There are more than 90,000 ships larger than 100 gross tons in the world of very different types. Each is introducing noise into the marine environment. Although not directly lethal, noise from shipping is, in larger and larger portions of the world’s oceans, the dominant source of underwater noise at frequencies that are central to the way that marine mammals, as well as many sea turtles, fish and invertebrate species, sense their surroundings and communicate. Research into much of the ultimate impacts of exposure to ship noise on the ability of animals to survive and reproduce, or the consequences for the long-term viability of populations (many of which are already heavily endangered or threatened), is in its infancy. However, enough is currently known to confirm that increased noise levels associated with shipping can interfere with communication, foraging, prey evasion and other important life history functions in marine mammals. It can also disrupt their behaviour and may act synergistically with other human-induced stressors with detrimental effects, as has been studied for humans living near highways and airports or working in noisy environments. The U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has held two symposia specifically on the issue of ship-introduced noise, its effects on marine fauna (especially marine mammals) and possible solutions to the problem. The wider issue of the effects of sound on marine mammals has also been discussed in various domestic and international arenas. However, to date several key parties have not been involved (e.g., IMO and ship builders/owners) and thus the format of some discussions has been limited. To address this limitation, Okeanos – Stiftung für das Meer (Foundation for the Sea), a non-profit organization created to protect the ocean and marine life, convened a workshop in April 2008 in Hamburg, Germany, focused on shipping noise and marine mammals. This workshop concentrated on engaging members of the international maritime transport industry, particularly ship builders and architects, and had a number of goals: – To increase the shipping industry’s awareness of and sensitivity to the need for the protection of marine mammals and other marine fauna from noise from ship operations. – To introduce the concept of noise from ship operations as an important issue in ship construction. – To introduce the concept of noise from ship operations to appropriate national and international regulatory bodies for appropriate consideration. – To generate material that can be used for many applications, such as to engage the public and gain the interest of public funding sources. – To build upon the developing knowledge base on the issue with technical discussion of potential solutions. – To initiate discussion within the industry and related companies about potential solutions for reducing noise, as well as any research required to further such efforts. Hamburg was seen to be the best location for this as Germany is a globally important supplier of ship equipment and the world’s 4th leading shipbuilding nation, with Hamburg a capital of ship owners and operators (representing 36% of the world’s containership fleet). Hamburg is also home to Germanischer Lloyd, which classes most of the worlds’ containerships. To facilitate open discussions, most of the presentations were scheduled for the first full day only, with several free-flowing discussions planned for the following two days. The group then proceeded to lay the groundwork for a submission to the International Maritime Organisation’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (IMO’s MEPC), which participants agreed to be the appropriate body to consider and manage the issue of noise from shipping. Accordingly, a summary in the form of a Statement of Participants was written by all the participants and subsequently released. Background papers summarising much of the information contain within the presentations were also written by the participants, in the hope that these documents might spur and support a submission by a Member State to the MEPC. Many articles and books have been written on the subject of the effects of noise on marine mammals, international maritime law, and the various means of reducing the amount of noise introduced into the marine environment by ships. In contrast, the statement and background documents are short, highly focused and written in simple language with a potentially wide, international audience that is generally unfamiliar with these issues. To that end, jargon has been avoided where possible. Similarly, many caveats and much of the fine detail often found in the wider literature have also been left out. They should thus be seen as an introduction to the issue: a place from which an interested party can begin to build their knowledge.

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