General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean - GFCM

Underwater noise pollution: a transboundary source of pollution detrimental to fish and marine-based livelihoods


News from the FAO Liaison Office in New York

FAO and partners are expanding the evidence base on the impact of anthropogenic underwater noise in marine ecosystems, the interruption of which can have grave socioeconomic implications.

Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction cover about 64 percent of total ocean surface area. They are crucial to providing ecosystem services, such as climate regulation, food security, and the overall well-being of our oceans. Transboundary pollutants, such as anthropogenic underwater noise, threaten biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions (BBNJ), which in turn threatens our oceans’ ability to ensure healthy, sustainable ecosystems and resilient biodiversity.

Underwater noise pollution, therefore, stands to negatively impact fish distribution, abundance, and catch rates, and as such, lead to potentially troubling socioeconomic impacts for those whose livelihoods depend on healthy, predictable fish stocks.

Taking place from 7 to 18 March has been the Fourth Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction – 4th BBNJ Conference.

On the sidelines of the 4th BBNJ Conference and negotiations towards a High Seas treat, OceanCare, with the active involvement of FAO, together with its General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), convened a side event yesterday on ‘Managing transboundary pollution and its impacts through the new BBNJ Instrument’.

What is underwater noise pollution, and how are marine ecosystems reacting?

Anthropogenic underwater noise, or human-generated noise in the marine environment, is caused by a wide array of human-led fishing, transport, and resource exploitation practices. These include underwater construction, geophysical research, oceanographic exploration, ship traffic, underwater sonars, and even seismic surveys for oil and other resource exploration. 

The joint work which was carried out by GFCM/FAO and Ocean Care through a desk study on anthropogenic underwater noise and its socio-economic impacts on fish, invertebrates, and fish resources has shed light on an in-depth assessment about the effects of underwater noise pollution on fish and invertebrates in the Adriatic Sea.

Global impact driven by regional cooperation 

When it comes to coordinating actions, pooling resources, and sharing information for the common good of marine ecosystems, regional cooperation in the High Seas is vital.

Speaking to this at yesterday’s side event was Piero Mannini, Senior Liaison Officer of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division.

“Global policies can be effectively implemented through a regional approach,” he said, pointing to how the 2030 Agenda rightfully emphasizes the regional dimensions of collaboration, economic integration, and interconnectivity across sectors, regions, and peoples who, in working together, stand to have a healthier, more prosperous relationship with nature, including marine ecosystems and the livelihoods they provide.

Regionalizing governance of fisheries 

Anthropogenic underwater noise can travel for hundreds of kilometers from its source, so its impacts and distortions to marine ecosystems know no political boundaries or national jurisdictions. The regionalization of fisheries governance, Mannini explained, can be an opportunity to addressing issues of common concern, while creating synergies and ensuring a common approach to and respect for the world’s closely interlinked marine ecosystems.  

Adding to this was Nicola Ferri, from the GFCM Secretariat, on how protecting marine ecosystems may not only be about addressing the transboundary impacts of several anthropogenic pollutants and enabling Area-Based Managements Tools, including fisheries restricted areas, but also about monitoring the interactions of fishing activities and other human activities at sea which might impact with these delicate ecosystems. 

“By compiling information on many aspects relevant to the monitoring human impacts on the marine environment of the Adriatic Sea in conjunction with the propagation of ocean noise in the proximity of a fisheries restricted area, and on the fishing sector in particular, the GFCM has become the reference organization in analysing data through modelling and simulation on the propagation of sound generated by fishing vessels and its socio-economic impact on commercial stocks” he said. There is now, for the first-time, an evidence base that this pioneer approach is essential in understanding underwater noise pollution as part of a broader sustainable fisheries agenda on transboundary issues.

Find out more about the FAO activities in New York on the webpage of the FAO Liaison Office in New York