Underwater noise in the marine environment | JPI OCEANS

Underwater noise in the marine environment

Joint Action Facts
Action period: May 2020
Strategic area:
  • Interdisciplinary Research for Good Environmental Status
Type of action:
  • Joint call
  • Knowledge hub
  • Procedures or agreements for transnational access and sharing of infrastructures
Lead countries:
  • Germany
  • Italy
More Information
Secretariat Contact: Willem De Moor


The Joint Action Underwater Noise in the Marine Environment was adopted on 6th May 2020 by the Management Board of JPI Oceans with the purpose of promoting a pan-European cross-disciplinary partnership for the integration of different sectors of the scientific research community. Concerns about acoustic pollution of the marine environment are becoming of paramount scientific interest, with relevance for national and international regulatory frameworks and the blue economy. 

The overarching objective is to decrease the high level of uncertainty about the impact of noise through the promotion of specific lines of scientific research, which contributes also to the implementation of the MSFD at regional sub-basin scale. It focuses on biological and interlinked implications from genes to ecosystems. 

Ocean Ethics principles will be considered to define guidelines and principles for all stakeholders related to the exposure of wildlife to underwater noise, the development of new technologies, societal acceptability, policy governance and access to data. 

Activities will include a component of dissemination and communication to different sectors of the society at large. 

The tools considered for the implementation of the Joint Action are: 

  • Establishment of a Knowledge Hub, composed of experts from member states, will guarantee the exchange of state-of-the-art scientific knowledge on specific innovative and cutting-edge concepts on the subject. 
  • Implementation of a Joint Call which will complement the development of a Knowledge Hub and the sharing of infrastructures to contribute to the implementation of a pan-European research strategy involving all European regional sea basins. 
  • Among the research activities promoted by the Joint Action, sharing of existing infrastructures is encouraged and envisaged as an opportunity for coordination between JPI Oceans and the EU Technical Group on Underwater Noise (TG-Noise) on monitoring activities using existing national and European infrastructures for the implementation of monitoring stations at selected locations in proximity to shipping lanes. 


Two scoping workshops were organized in Brussels in January 2019 (with support of CSA Oceans 2) and in Rome in January 2020. The workshops addressed the prospects for JPI Oceans to progress the scientific ambitions in support of regulatory frameworks at the European level and identify priorities to implement a Joint Action on Underwater Noise in the Marine Environment. The scoping workshops were supported by delegates from Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. 

The main output of the first workshop was the identification of research gaps and needs on the state of impacts, technology, sound propagation, and measurements. The second workshop identified priority fields for a proposal of the Joint Action. 

A draft text for a Joint Call and the composition of the Knowledge Hub are currently being devised. 


The following impacts are expected: 

  • Improved knowledge of soundscapes at regional level, population effects, physiological diagnostics, and cumulative effects of anthropogenic noise on marine wildlife. 
  • Synergies between academic and industrial stakeholders in developing reasonable and efficient alternative sound sources, and comparative evaluation of impacts on marine ecosystems (e.g. marine vibrators and alternative sources for geophysical exploration). 
  • Improvements in the development of a regulatory framework at a sub-basin scale, shared among transnational administrations.  


The World Health Organization (2011) notes that human-caused (anthropogenic) noise is recognized as a global pollutant and one of the most harmful types. The United Nations and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) recognize the timeliness of anthropogenic underwater noise as a pressing societal issue and recommended that stakeholders shall work toward appropriate prevention, mitigation, and noise pollution-reduction measures. 

Since most mammals, fish and invertebrates use sound for vital life functions, noise can affect an individual’s behaviour, physiology, anatomy (e.g. injury to vital organs), and development. Those adversities may have broad ramifications on healthy and resilient ecosystems as they affect populations’ biology and ecology and ultimately impact on fisheries and human food security. 

The development of monitoring guidelines and scientific research, stimulated by EU Birds and Habitats Directives, has been driven by the activity of international agreements (e.g. ACCOBAMS, ASCOBANS), Conventions (e.g. OSPAR), Committees (e.g. JNCC, HELCOM) for rules for the mitigation of the effects of anthropogenic sound and guidelines for operators and regulators. At the same time, the introduction by the EC of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD 2008/56/EC) with the objective of achieving (or maintaining) a Good Environmental Status (GES) of European seas and oceans has promoted different degrees of activities for its implementation in Member States with the support of the expert group TG Noise that was installed within the framework of the Common Implementation Strategy of the MSFD. Tasks of the TG Noise are, among others, to assist Member States and Regional Sea Conventions (RSC) in the implementation of operational monitoring and to ensure regional coherence and complementarity. 


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