February 1st to 5th 2016
Olhão, Portugal
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Habitat Loss & Ocean Noise

Scientific Session: Habitat Loss & Ocean Noise

The future of ocean noise management - advances, gaps, priorities

René Dekeling, Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, The Netherlands

Ocean underwater noise was recognized as important anthropogenic pressure around the turn of the century. Concern was initially driven by strandings of cetaceans after use of military sonar; the uncertainty about the mechanism causing these incidents and whether there was potential for large-scale impact added to this concern. Military organisations, worried about implications for their ability to use essential sonar systems, reacted by initiating research on the effects of sound on the marine environment- legislators soon followed, and the European Marine Strategy Directive that came into force in 2008 now requires EU member states to ensure that deleterious effects of man-made noise on the ecosystem are prevented- both from loud impulsive noise sources and by the increase of low frequency ambient noise levels. The requirement to think at ecosystem scale has prompted regulators to broaden the scale of underwater noise impact assessments- in the EU required by the Marine Strategy, but also the approach taken in the US Ocean Noise Strategy. In future broader scale assessments, regulators aim to determine whether the scale of sound generating activities and anthropogenic sound levels requires further action at a larger scale/or in a wider region. Where we still struggle to understand and quantify the impact of ambient noise, the knowledge about effects of loud impulsive noise sources has increased significantly over the last years. Research initially focussed on physiological effects in marine organisms, but behavioural disturbance leading to habitat loss, which may happen at low levels of exposure and thus at large scale, may be more significant for ecosystems. Combining scientific expertise is needed to quantify the scale of habitat loss and understand the effect of this (often temporary) habitat loss on the ecosystem, to identify the zones where action is needed to protect ocean values.

'Marine Spatial Planning to address habitat loss, coastal infrastructure development, urbanization, and the loss of coastal and ocean values'

Tundi Agardy - Director, Marine Ecosystem Services Program, Forest Trends

Marine spatial planning (MSP) and the subsequent zoning and regulations on use that flow from it are emerging in various forms around the world. However, many countries are missing opportunities to use MSP to its full potential to promote sustainable use of ocean space and resources, while at the same time meeting social and conservation objectives. In the rush to promote ‘blue growth’, the focus in some places is on accommodating as many uses within the ocean space as possible, and in such scenarios MSP is used primarily to reduce conflict between big, industrial users. Effective MSP can do much more: it can synch to coastal planning to create truly effective ecosystem-based management, in which degradation of important ecosystems is prevented by focusing management on drivers of degradation (even if those drivers do not trace back to ocean use but rather have their base in land and freshwater use). Thus the spatially-oriented regulations that emerge from MSP can address the loss and degradation of habitats that occurs through urbanization and coastal infrastructure development, to ensure that nature’s benefits from coastal and ocean ecosystems continue to flow. This sort of holistic planning also creates opportunities for transboundary collaboration to effectively manage shared resources, at a variety of scales. MSP and related ocean zoning can ensure that ecologically important areas are fully represented in a mosaic of use and protection. Finally, the planning process can ensure that the needs of local communities, and the safeguarding of values that extend beyond those captured by large maritime industries, are considered in decisions on how to allocate space and resources in a equitable way, while promoting economic growth.