Dr. Marsha Green attended the Sixteenth Meeting of the United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea April 6-10, 2015 at U. N. Headquarters. The topic of the meeting was Oceans and Sustainable Development. This topic was meant to address the conflict between development and conservation/protection interests in the ocean that can raise difficult choices.
Dr. Green asked one of the panelists how he would reconcile the divergent interests of civil society/environmental protection with those of business interested in making a profit. The essence of the reply was that we need good science and risk assessment. We need to have reliable research data to determine how to proceed with human activities in the ocean.
We agree. The Ocean Mammal Institute has been making this argument since its inception. Our mission is to use research results to protect the oceans from damaging influences. In fact our founding slogan is ”Science Protecting Nature”. For example, research done by the Ocean Mammal Institute showed that parasail boats in Hawaii were impacting the humpback whales in their breeding habitat. This data convinced the Hawaii State Legislature to pass a law banning the operation of parasail boats in Hawaii from December 15 to May 15 in areas frequented by whales.
What the panelist failed to mention was that the research has to be transparent and funded by sources that do not have a vested financial interest in the results of the research.
Dr. Marsha Green, representing OMI and the International Ocean Noise Coalition (IONC), attended the 14th meeting of the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (May 27-31, 2014). The topic at the conference was the oceans and global food security. Global food security is one of IONC’s concerns because twenty percent of the world’s protein nourishment comes from seafood. Intense underwater noise pollution has been shown to decrease commercial fish catch rates by 40% to 80%, which affects food supply.
In the opening statement IONC noted their disappointment that the FAO had not initiated research to further assess the impact of noise from air guns used for oil and gas exploration on fish catch rates. The loudness of these air guns, which go off every 10 seconds during surveys, is equivalent to the sound of a NASA rocket taking off. In 2010 the UN General Assembly encouraged the FAO to initiate studies on the link between ocean noise, decreased fish catch rates and their socioeconomic impact.
Dr. Green asked Dr. Susan Singh-Renton, the Deputy Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and a panelist at the meeting, if CRFM would work with the FAO to address the request of the General Assembly to study the relationship between ocean noise and fish catch rates.
Dr. Renton noted our request and replied that CRFM can work with the FAO to expedite this important research. This is a significant step forward at protecting global food security. It also is a good example of the importance of OMI’s “Science Protecting Nature” mandate.
We need more research to help us understand the effect of the technology on fish and the global food supply.
Tenth Session of the Open-ended Informal Consultative Process
on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.
UN Headquarters in New York, 17-19 June 2009.
Pictured here is Dr. Marsha Green reading a paper prepared by the International Ocean Noise Coalition (IONC) which is a group of over fifty organizations globally concerned about increasing levels of noise in the oceans due to shipping, air guns used for oil and gas exploration and high intensity military sonar. The topic of the paper was to ask that ocean noise be included in future discussions of UNICPOLOS meetings. The paper is provided below picture.
The UNICPOLOS is the only forum within the United Nations related to the Law of the Sea where NGOs are allowed to participate, seek the floor and otherwise publicly interact with delegations and representatives of IGOs and civil society. The International Ocean Noise Coalition first attended the UNICPOLOS in 2004 in order to inform the international community about the increasingly significant threat posed by human generated underwater noise to marine genetic resources and biological diversity. Without the UNICPOLOS we would have never had the opportunity to bring ocean noise pollution, and the diverse problems that it presents to marine ecosystems, to the attention of the United Nations. This year the ICP will be reviewing for the first time its own process in order to decide whether or not this forum should be continued in the future. The International Ocean Noise Coalition strongly supports the UNICPOLOS as it has proven to be a very useful and efficient forum for addressing emerging and increasing pressures on the ocean.
Ocean noise is one example of an emerging issue for which the ICP has provided a platform for international debate. Because powerful sources of ocean noise, such as seismic air guns, military sonar, and commercial shipping, can propagate over hundreds or thousands of square kilometers of ocean (e.g., Clark and Gagnon 2006; Nieukirk et al. 2004), and because many marine species range widely across political boundaries, ocean noise requires both national and intergovernmental engagement. The ICP provides the opportunity for this critical international engagement while encouraging contributions from civil society.
As a direct result of discussions initially occurring in UNICPOLOS, the UN has recognized ocean noise as a growing threat to marine ecosystems since 2005. In his report to the General Assembly in July 2005, the UN Secretary General listed anthropogenic underwater noise as one of the five current major threats to some populations of whales and other cetaceans and also included noise as one of the ten main current and foreseeable impacts on marine biodiversity on the high seas. The General Assembly responded by passing successive resolutions in 2005, 2006, and 2007 to encourage further studies and consideration of the impacts of ocean noise on marine living resources. Ocean noise continues to appear on the list of issues that could benefit from attention in the future work of the General Assembly on oceans and the Law of the Sea. This is a telling example of the ability of UNICPOLOS to highlight critical emerging issues for discussion in the General Assembly and the importance of NGO participation.
A CALL TO ACTION
Because ocean noise is a form of transboundary pollution that increasingly threatens fish and fisheries, whales, and other species of marine life, and because mitigating its environmental effects is essential to sustainable development of the sea and global food security, we hereby call upon the UN and its Member States to:
Encourage Member States to renew the mandate of the UNICPOLOS;
- Urge States, the UNGA, UN specialized agencies, and relevant international and national organizations to work together to implement the precautionary approach to protect marine living resources;
- Recommend that DOALOS obtain information on the measures employed by Member States to mitigate the adverse effects of ocean noise on marine living resources and make such information available on its website;
- Suggest that the Regional Seas Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme work with States to incorporate management of anthropogenic ocean noise and other forms of pollution into their Regional Seas Agreements; and
- Consider and approve ocean noise pollution as a topic for upcoming meetings of the UNICPOLOS.
Clark, C.W., and Gagnon, G.C. (2006). Considering the temporal and spatial scales of noise exposures from seismic surveys on baleen whales. IWC/SC/58/E9. Submitted to Scientific Committee, International Whaling Commission. 9pp.
Nieukirk, S.L., Stafford, K.M., Mellinger, D.K., Dziak, R.P., and Fox, C.G. (2004). Low-frequency whale and seismic airgun sounds recorded in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 115: 1832-1843.