An international expert workshop discussed the issue of underwater noise on the 22nd and 23rd of November 2017 in Split, Croatia, with a special focus on numerous planned oil exploration activities in the south-eastern Mediterranean Sea. The convenors OceanCare and NRDC sum up the workshop outcome.

During a 2-day workshop on the 22nd and 23rd of November in Split, Croatia, 62 participants from 17 countries discussed impacts of underwater noise on marine wildlife in south-eastern Mediterranean waters. Searching for new hydrocarbon resources faces criticism not only due to its consequences for the world’s climate. Also the noise by airguns used for oil exploration is a matter of concern not only for scientists and environmentalists. Workshop participants included officials from environmental and energy ministries and authorities, international environmental agreements, and the EU Commission, as well as tourism and fisheries interest groups, scientists and NGOs. The region in question has been increasingly targeted by the oil industry in recent years, with numerous seismic activities being planned (see enclosed map).

Following presentations by experts from different disciplines, amongst others about the impacts of noise on fish stocks and the entire marine food web, and about less noisy alternative technologies, the participants discussed potential steps for action that would improve the situation in the region. A comprehensive action plan has been developed and will be harmonized within the coming days.

Workshop participants agreed that the current situation urgently needs improvement. Some of the most important aspects that the majority of participants think have to be tackled:

  • Transpose CMS guidelines into national legislation, bearing in mind national context and legal structures
  • Reduction of seismic activities in the region
  • Promote development and mandate use of best available quieting technologies, and require operators to demonstrate that they are not using sources that are more powerful than necessary and send at unnecessary frequencies.
  • In line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement 2015, public money should not flow into the oil and gas industry. Rather, the use of public money for the identification of alternative approaches to mitigate ocean noise pollution should be encouraged.

The enclosed map shows the regions affected by planned exploration activities in south-eastern European waters and in the south-eastern Mediterranean. Oil exploration uses so-called airguns that emit explosive sounds of up to 260 decibel every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or even months into the sea and towards the seafloor, posing a threat to many marine animals, including cetaceans, seals, turtles, fish and invertebrates, and jeopardizing efforts to re-build fish stocks. The impacts of this explosive sound range far beyond the regions of exploration and also pose a particular challenge for bilateral and multilateral cooperation among countries. In October 2017 during a conference of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species in Manila, representatives of 120 countries agreed on guidelines for environmental impact assessments prior to noise-generating activities.

The 2-day workshop has been organised and hosted by OceanCare and NRDC, international nature conservation organisations, and technically and financially supported by the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU). It was prompted by information about the growing appetite of petroleum companies to search for hydrocarbon resources in South-Eastern European waters. One recent application concerns oil exploration in the waters of Montenegro, possibly affecting the Mediterranean’s most endangered species, the monk seal, as well as deep diving beaked whales.