The International Maritime Organization took incremental steps to protecting marine environments, including in the Arctic, from noise pollution. The voluntary measures, however, do not go far enough, say environmental groups and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, especially for the Arctic Ocean’s sensitive ecosystem.
Especially harmful in Arctic
“The Arctic Ocean is the last ocean on earth to remain relatively unpolluted by underwater noise, yet the region is experiencing immense pressure from climate change and increased industrial development,” says Melanie Lancaster, Senior specialist, Arctic species, WWF Arctic Programme.
The harm arising from noise pollution is especially high in the Arctic as melting sea and rapidly increasing economic activity, such as shipping, coincide. The melting of sea ice has multiple negative effects. Not only did sea ice in the past limit the amount of shipping traffic in the Arctic Ocean, it also functioned as a “sound buffer” reducing the impact of noise.
We are disappointed
Dr Sian Prior, Clean Arctic Alliance Lead Advisor
Similar concerns were voiced by the Clean Arctic Alliance.
Doubled in six years
In the past the Arctic Ocean has been largely free of man-made sounds; bar a limited number of research icebreakers and submarines. However, this is rapidly changing with noise pollution in the region doubling between 2013-2019. And since then traffic volume and maritime economic activity in the Arctic has further increased.
With noise pollution doubling in just six years, action to protect the marine environment in the Arctic is urgently needed, explains the ICC: “This is significant considering that it took decades for other parts of the world to experience those types of increases.”
While the issue of noise pollution is not unique to the Arctic, but occurs universally across the global oceans, the Polar region’s unique environment will require special protections, explains Sarah Bobbe, Arctic Program Manager, at Ocean Conservancy.
“The IMO’s future work on underwater noise must include compulsory measures such as the adoption of limits on underwater radiated noise from ships, so that the overall failure to reduce underwater noise is addressed globally,” concludes Bobbe. “In addition to global measures, even more stringent regional measures to reduce acoustic pollution from vessels in areas such as the Arctic will be necessary.”