On October 28, 120 of the world’s governments adopted new global Guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for Marine Noise-generating Activities. This game-changing event took place during the 12th Meeting of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). This news is particularly poignant for me because the author, Geoff Prideaux, is my husband.
Over the past two years, I have watched Geoff coordinate this significant project for CMS from our farm on Kangaroo Island. It’s been a huge task, against considerable pressure from very powerful industries, in particular, big oil. He has collected expert information about the full range of species impacted by marine noise–from whales and sealions to fish, to polar bears. He has developed accessible information about the nature of sound and marine noise-generating activities including seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration, shipping, pile driving and military sonar so that decision-makers in government are able to make sense of the technical detail that is presented to them. Together with other experts, he has developed Guidelines for governments to use when requesting Environmental Impact Assessments for marine noise-generating activities. I watched his toil as the Guidelines went through two rounds of exhaustive consultation process that spanned more than six months.
Until now, in many regions of the world, it has been standard to accept poor assessments of the impact marine noise will cause. That’s if the assessment was even done at all. The documents provided by industry rarely addresses the serious impacts of the noise they create on marine wildlife and the wider marine ecosystem. Behavioural changes, displacement, temporary or permanent hearing loss or physical damage, including death, have all been documented for marine mammals, fish, shellfish, molluscs, and even zooplankton, but industry has remained resolute that if they didn’t mention the science it wasn’t true.
Now all that has changed.
“Intense noise sources can be lethal. It is high time that we properly assess activities that have devastating potential to impact whole marine ecosystems” Geoff Prideaux said in a media statement after the Guidelines were adopted. “The Guidelines had their genesis in communities struggling to access truthful information. Finally, they are vindicated. This decision is a game changer. Now there is a robust tool for management authorities around the world to transparently assess if marine activities should proceed. At last we can turn down the volume in our oceans.”
I was at the CMS meeting to help shepherd this important work through. The initial discussion was webcast on Tuesday, October 24:
After moving to a working group for the rest of the week, the Guidelines were adopted on Saturday October 28.
The documents that were adopted on the final day of the meeting can be read online.
GUIDELINES, Annexed to the RESOLUTION
Annex to Adverse Impacts of Anthropogenic Noise on Cetaceans and Other Migratory Species
Never say never!