According to the Arctic Council’s working group for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), the amount of traffic in the Arctic as measured by distance traveled, increased by 75 percent between 2013 – 2019. Areas that did not see any or only very limited traffic, e.g. the channel between Baffin Island and the west coast of Greenland saw a substantial increase in traffic from bulk carriers transporting iron from the Mary River mine.
Including Indigenous Knowledge
Environmental groups and the ICC also noted the IMO’s recognition of the importance of Indigenous Knowledge to understanding and addressing the impact of underwater noise.
“What we have seen from Indigenous Knowledge and academic research is that noise pollution from ships has a unique and significant impact in our Arctic marine waters. Noise travels longer distances in cold water and most marine mammals are not used to it. That means there are disproportionate impacts compared to other regions,” said ICC Vice Chair Lisa Koperqualuk.
The voluntary nature of the guidelines is a key issue to further protecting the Arctic Ocean from noise pollution. “There is very little uptake by shipping owners and operators and noise levels are increasing,” Vice Chair Koperqualuk pointed out.
Both environmental groups and the ICC urge the IMO to develop mandatory measures and develop targets and noise reduction plans for specific parts of the Arctic Ocean.
The ICC also calls for the inclusion of an “Arctic Annex” in the IMO guidelines as a concrete way to include Indigenous Knowledge in the policy making process of the IMO.
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.”