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Monitoring underwater marine noise pollution in the Med

An image showing (in red) the intensity of maritime traffic around the Maltese islands.

An image showing (in red) the intensity of maritime traffic around the Maltese islands.

The more intensive use and exploi­tation of the Mediterranean Sea is increasing underwater noise which  negatively affects the health and services of marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Studies have found that noise pollution is impacting marine life, mainly fish and marine mammals, leading to physical, phy­sio­logical and behavioural changes that threat­en their survival.

The main sources of marine noise are international shipping, oil and gas exploration, large coastal developments and military sonar activities. Since sound tra­vels much more efficiently in the water than in air the negative effects of this noise may be felt for many miles beyond the sources.

Unfortunately, since people do not notice marine noise pollution, unlike other marine pollutants such as plastics, many countries often neglect the problem when they undertake policy, monitoring and implementation actions. Under­sea noise may devastate species that need to communicate or find food or mates by being able to listen for relevant sounds. It is like someone trying to talk to another person with a loud band playing in the background, or the stress and health hazards of being exposed to loud noise for prolonged periods of the day or night.

Undersea noise may devastate species that need to communicate or find food or mates by being able to listen for relevant sounds

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) seeks to preserve the marine environment and to achieve Good Environmental Status by 2020. It highlights the need to establish anthropogenic noise levels that do not affect marine biota (Descriptor 11). These levels need to be measured according to established standards many of which are listed in the directive.

The University of Malta is involved in the QuietMed project that aims to promote better coordination among EU Member States that share marine regions and sub-regions to increase the protection level and the conservation status of Mediterranean marine spaces against the damages caused by anthropogenic underwater noise.

Through its Mediterranean pilot projects to monitor marine sounds in Spanish, Maltese and Cypriot waters, QuietMed has been investigating the best ways to improve the level of coherence and the comparability in mea­sures of the MSFD’s Descriptor 11.

Other partners in the QuietMed consortium are expert institutions in marine noise monitoring from Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece. Another partner is ACCOBAMS, which is responsible for coordinating cetacean conservation in the region.

In Malta the marine underwater noise monitoring is being undertaken by Adriana Vella and Joseph Vella from the University of Malta with logistic support from the minis­tries for the environment and transport. The University in colla­boration with ACCOBAMS recently hosted QuietMed workshops to train and share best practice on underwater marine noise monitoring in the Mediterranean.

The project is supported by the European Commission’s DG Environment.

For further information e-mail adriana.vella@um.edu.mt.

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