great barrier reef

Noise Letter to the World Heritage Convention

May 13, 2015 Mr. Kishore Rao Director World Heritage Secretariat UNESCO 7, Place Fontenoy, 75353 Paris 07 SP
Dear Director Rao,
We, the undersigned, are marine scientists and non-governmental organisations, united in our concerns
over the failure of the Australian federal and Queensland governments to adequately address the impacts
of anthropogenic noise resulting from the current and projected resource industry development in the
Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA). Consequently, we are requesting that the
GBRWHA be designated as a World Heritage Area in Danger.
Underwater noise sources in the GBRWHA include dredging, pile driving, infrastructure development,
recreational vessels and an exponential projected increase in shipping traffic including coal vessels and
LNG tankers.1
Underwater noise can travel many hundreds of kilometres depending on geo-acoustic parameters which
are influenced by tides, wind, seabed conditions, salinity, ducting and thermoclines.2 Such noise can have
dramatic impact on marine species.
For example, as indicated in a resolution adopted in 2012, parties to the Convention on Biological
Diversity noted that:
“… anthropogenic noise may have both short- and long-term negative consequences for marine
animals and other biota in the marine environment, that this issue is predicted to increase in
significance, and that uncontrolled increases in anthropogenic noise could add further stress to
oceanic biota.”3
Noise impacts of particular concern are those affecting cetaceans, dugongs, turtle, fish and coral larvae.
For example:
“Shipping noise may inhibit coral reef formation and colonisation where ambient
underwater sound is an important orientation and settlement cue for marine invertebrate
larvae.” 4
For cetaceans, parties to the Convention on Migratory Species adopted a resolution in 2011 that:
“Strongly urges Parties to prevent adverse effects on cetaceans and on other migratory marine
species by restricting the emission of underwater noise, understood as keeping it to the lowest
necessary level with particular priority given to situations where the impacts on cetaceans are
1 8770 in 2017 – 16,673 in 2032. PGM Environment 2012 Great Barrier Reef Shipping.
2 Christopher Clark, Cornell University, pers.comm.
3 Convention on Biological Diversity. October 2012. UNEP/CBD/COP/DEC/XI/18: Marine and coastal biodiversity:
sustainable fisheries and addressing adverse impacts of human activities, voluntary guidelines for environmental assessment,
and marine spatial planning. Impacts of anthropogenic underwater noise on marine and coastal biodiversity.
4 Vermeij M. et al. 2010. Coral larvae move towards reef sounds. PLOS One. Simpson al., 2004 Attraction of settlement
stage coral reef fishes to reef noise. Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol. 276-268
known to be heavy; and where noise cannot be avoided, urges Parties to develop an appropriate
regulatory framework or implement relevant measures to ensure a reduction or mitigation of
man-made underwater noise;;”5
The North East Shipping Management Plan developed by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland government reveals that:
“Noise may also impact on fish species communicating during spawning and territorial fights, or
when competing for food or being attacked by a predator with possible consequences for
ecosystem function and flow on commercial and recreational impacts.”6
Additional research details impacts on marine mammals which indicates that:
“Anthropogenic sounds can affect marine mammals in a number of ways, including (a)
disruption of behaviour, (b) masking of important sounds, (c) temporary or permanent hearing
loss, (d) physiological stress or physical injury, and (e) changes to the ecosystems that result in a
reduction of prey availability.”7
Masking is defined as the reduction in the area over which marine mammals can hear and communicate.
“It degrades marine-mammal acoustic habitat much like fog or smoke obscures important visual
signals for terrestrial animals.” 8
Commercial shipping is a significant contributor to masking noise. Dredging is a further source of
anthropogenic noise and:
“In the next decade 60 million cubic metres of dredging is already in the pipeline.”9
Despite the documented impacts, identifying anthropogenic noise as the cause of mortality is inhibited by
the lack of any mandatory noise related necropsy protocols10 at the federal and state level as well as a lack
of trained regional veterinary staff.
Noting that the GBRWHA is designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area11, and aware that the United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea includes energy and therefore underwater noise, in its
definition of “marine pollution”, we are concerned by the lack of legislation at the Australian state or
federal level which deals with impacts or sets regulatory limits on the levels of anthropogenic noise.12
Indeed successive UN General Assembly resolutions have noted “ocean noise has potential (for)
significant adverse impacts on living marine resources.” (See e.g., UN General Assembly Resolution
Indeed, to date, no soundscape analyses have been undertaken in the GBRWHA despite the value of such
monitoring. According to researchers at the University of Auckland:14
5 Convention on Migratory Species. November 2011. UNEP/CMS/Resolution 10.24. Further steps to abate underwater noise
pollution for the protection of cetaceans and other migratory species.
6 North East Shipping Management Plan developed by Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Authority, together with Queensland government departments, finalized October 2014.
7 Sue Moore, Randall Reeves et. al., A new Framework for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic sound on marine mammals
in a rapidly changing Arctic. March 2012 Bioscience, Vol. 62 No.3A.
8 Slabbekoorn H. et al. 2010 A noisy spring: the impact of globally rising underwater levels on fish. Trends Ecol. Evol. 25:419-
9 Terry P. Hughes et al. April, 2015. Securing the Future of the Reef, Nature Climate Change, commentary.
10 Federal Department of Environment standardized protocols for collection of biological samples stranded cetaceans.
11 International Marine Organisation (IMO) designation.
12 Environmental Defenders Office, Brisbane, 2013 Advice to Australians for Animals Inc.
13 See e.g., UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/69/245
14 Sydney A. Harris, Craig A. Radford. University of Auckland. 2014 Inter-Noise conference on Marine Sounds Scape
Ecology, Melbourne
“Acoustic monitoring can allow for detailed progress reports on habitat health
in real time. Certain types of sound, whether natural or unnatural, may provide clues that help
ecologists distinguish between healthy or deteriorating environments including effects of
anthropogenic activity, habitat fragmentation, introduced diseases, population depletion
through hunting, chemical pollution, noise pollution and many others may alter the
status quo of animals acoustic behaviour, thereby altering the overall acoustic signature
of an area. Several studies show that variation in the soundscape can be “an early
warning indicator of disturbances to the natural environment.”
Furthermore, we note, that the Great Barrier Reef Draft Strategic Assessment15 states “There has been no
comprehensive study of the effect of man-made noises on GBR species.” In addition, Chapter 6-47 in the
Draft Strategic Assessment states:
“Given the increases in man-made underwater noise and the observed effects on marine life
around the world, there is an urgent need for greater understanding of the effects of
anthropogenic noise.”
Finally, despite the Australian government’s Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan16 recommendation
to “Develop a guideline specific to the GBR on assessing and managing impacts of underwater noise on
species 17” no time frame, costings, or potential funding sources are included to achieve this objective.
Based on the foregoing evidence and noting that the Criteria for Inclusion in the World Heritage In
Danger List specifies that “a potential danger is a major threat which could have deleterious effects on
the inherent characteristics of the property “and that examples of such major threats include “the
management plan is lacking or inadequate or not fully implemented” we believe the failure to address
anthropogenic noise warrants an In Danger listing for the GBRWHA.
Yours sincerely,
On behalf of:
Dr. Luke Rendell, University of St Andrews, Scotland.
Mr. Graeme Kelleher, AO, FTSE, FIEAust., FEIANZ and former CEO of GBRMPA (1979-1994)
Dr. David Bain, University of Washington
Dr. Matt Landos, BVSc(HonsI), Sydney University
Dr. Reese Halter, Distinguished Conservation Biologist, Los Angeles, California
Dr. Richard Steiner, Oasis Earth, Anchorage, Alaska
Acoustic Ecology Institute
Animal Welfare Institute
Augusto Carneiro Institute
Australians for Animals
Brazilian Marine, Coastal and Water Resources Network
Cetacean Society International
Divers for Sharks
Environmental Investigation Agency
Fondation Franz Weber
The Group of 100
Marine Animal Connection
15 Great Barrier Reef Draft Strategic Assessment 2014
16 The Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan Australian government.
17 The Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan Recommendation BA13 –Develop a guidelines on assessing and managing
underwater noise on species.
M.E.E.R e.V.
Natural Resources Defense Council
No Whales in Captivity
Ocean Conservation Research
Ocean Mammal Institute
Oceanomare Delphis Onlus
Pro Wildlife
Vivamar Society for the Sustainable Development of the Sea
Whale and Dolphin Conservation
The Whaleman Foundation

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Sue Arnold

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