Tenth Session of the Open-ended Informal Consultative Process
on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.


UN Headquarters in New York, 17-19 June 2009.



Pictured below is Dr. Marsha Green reading a paper prepared by the International Ocean Noise Coalition (IONC) which is a group of over fifty organizations globally concerned about increasing levels of noise in the oceans due to shipping, air guns used for oil and gas exploration and high intensity military sonar.  The topic of the paper was to ask that ocean noise be included in future discussions of UNICPOLOS meetings. The paper is provided below picture.




IONC Paper



The UNICPOLOS is the only forum within the United Nations related to the Law of the Sea where NGOs are allowed to participate, seek the floor and otherwise publicly interact with delegations and representatives of IGOs and civil society.  The International Ocean Noise Coalition first attended the UNICPOLOS in 2004 in order to inform the international community about the increasingly significant threat posed by human generated underwater noise to marine genetic resources and biological diversity.  Without the UNICPOLOS we would have never had the opportunity to bring ocean noise pollution, and the diverse problems that it presents to marine ecosystems, to the attention of the United Nations.  This year the ICP will be reviewing for the first time its own process in order to decide whether or not this forum should be continued in the future.  The International Ocean Noise Coalition strongly supports the UNICPOLOS as it has proven to be a very useful and efficient forum for addressing emerging and increasing pressures on the ocean.


Ocean noise is one example of an emerging issue for which the ICP has provided a platform for international debate.  Because powerful sources of ocean noise, such as seismic air guns, military sonar, and commercial shipping, can propagate over hundreds or thousands of square kilometers of ocean (e.g., Clark and Gagnon 2006; Nieukirk et al. 2004), and because many marine species range widely across political boundaries, ocean noise requires both national and intergovernmental engagement.  The ICP provides the opportunity for this critical international engagement while encouraging contributions from civil society.


As a direct result of discussions initially occurring in UNICPOLOS, the UN has recognized ocean noise as a growing threat to marine ecosystems since 2005.  In his report to the General Assembly in July 2005, the UN Secretary General listed anthropogenic underwater noise as one of the five “current major threats to some populations of whales and other cetaceans” and also included noise as one of the ten “main current and foreseeable impacts on marine biodiversity” on the high seas.  The General Assembly responded by passing successive resolutions in 2005, 2006, and 2007 to encourage “further studies and consideration of the impacts of ocean noise on marine living resources.”  Ocean noise continues to appear on the list of issues that could benefit from attention in the future work of the General Assembly on oceans and the Law of the Sea.  This is a telling example of the ability of UNICPOLOS to highlight critical emerging issues for discussion in the General Assembly and the importance of NGO participation.




Because ocean noise is a form of transboundary pollution that increasingly threatens fish and fisheries, whales, and other species of marine life, and because mitigating its environmental effects is essential to sustainable development of the sea and global food security, we hereby call upon the UN and its Member States to:


- Encourage Member States to renew the mandate of the UNICPOLOS;


- Urge States, the UNGA, UN specialized agencies, and relevant international and national organizations to work together to implement the precautionary approach to protect marine living resources;


- Recommend that DOALOS obtain information on the measures employed by Member States to mitigate the adverse effects of ocean noise on marine living resources and make such information available on its website;


- Suggest that the Regional Seas Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme work with States to incorporate management of anthropogenic ocean noise and other forms of pollution into their Regional Seas Agreements; and


-  Consider and approve ocean noise pollution as a topic for upcoming meetings of the UNICPOLOS.



Clark, C.W., and Gagnon, G.C. (2006). Considering the temporal and spatial scales of noise exposures from seismic surveys on baleen whales. IWC/SC/58/E9. Submitted to Scientific Committee, International Whaling Commission. 9pp.

Nieukirk, S.L., Stafford, K.M., Mellinger, D.K., Dziak, R.P., and Fox, C.G. (2004). Low-frequency whale and seismic airgun sounds recorded in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 115: 1832-1843.




At lunchtime, the IONC held a side event on the impacts of ocean noise on marine biodiversity. 




Presenters pictured from left to right:  Marsha Green, Linda Weilgart, Taryn Kiekow and Yolanda Alaniz.