Growing anthropogenic use and exploitation of the Mediterranean Sea has raised underwater marine noise. Scientific studies have increasingly reported impacts of noise pollution on marine life, fish and marine mammals in particular, with consequent physical, physiological and behavioural alterations which have led to risks to their survival and reproduction. Noise pollution therefore affects the health and services provided by marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Some of the primary sources of marine noise are caused by the international shipping activities, oil and gas exploration, large coastal developments and military sonar activities whose effects may be felt for many miles. In fact, not everyone appreciates that sound travels much more efficiently in the aquatic marine environment than in air.
Unfortunately, due to the not easily perceivable presence of marine noise pollution by humans, unlike other marine pollutants such as plastics, noise pollution has often been neglected at policy, monitoring and implementation actions in many Mediterranean countries. In fact, few of us know that noise in our seas may be devastating for species that need to communicate or find food or mates by being able to listen for relevant sounds that may be masked by the noise present in the sea. Very much like when someone is trying to talk to another person with a loud band playing in the background, not to mention the stress and health hazards to humans having to suffer loud noise for prolonged periods of the day or night.
The Marine Directive 2008/56/CE, specifically the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, represents a vital way forward to preserve the marine environment as it aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020. It therefore also highlights the need to establish anthropogenic noise levels that do not affect marine Biota (Descriptor 11). These levels need to be measured according to the established standards many of which are entranced in the same directive.
The quietMED project has received funding from the DG Environment, European Commission to device better coordination among 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.
QuietMED, through its Mediterranean pilot projects for monitoring marine sounds in Spanish, Maltese and Cretan waters, has been investigating ways to improve the level of coherence and the comparability in measures of the MSFD’s Descriptor 11. Investigations involve considerations for best underwater noise monitoring implementation in the Mediterranean Sea Region by enhancing cooperation among Member States (MS), the Barcelona Convention and other third non-EU countries.
In this regard Maltese Ministries for the Environment and Transport have given their logistic support for the Maltese marine underwater noise monitoring undertaken by the University of Malta (UM) through the participation of Adriana Vella, Ph.D. (Cambridge) and Joseph Vella, Ph.D. (Sheffield). This active involvement has therefore achieved the first ever dedicated MSFD targeted measures of noise levels in Maltese waters, also contributing to Mediterranean wide efforts to achieve coherent, coordinated and consistent updates of the determinations for Good Environmental Status, initial assessments and environmental targets for this region.
Apart from the UM, the QuietMED consortium also includes: CTN, IEO and UPV from Spain, SHOM from France, ISPRA from Italy, IZVRS from Slovenia, IOF from Croatia, FORTH from Greece that are expert institutions in marine noise monitoring. Another partner is ACCOBAMS which is responsible for coordinating cetacean conservation in the region.
The University of Malta in collaboration with ACCOBAMS are organising QuietMED workshops to train and share best practice on underwater marine noise monitoring in the Mediterranean in Malta between 22 and 25 October with participants coming from around our region.