Inuit knowledge will play a role in revising IMO guidelines on underwater noise reduction – Eye on the Arctic

A stock photo of narwhals in the Canadian Arctic. Many Inuit hunters in the eastern Canadian Arctic are concerned about the effects of shipping noise on the marine mammals they depend on for food. (Kristin Laidre/NOAA/AP)

Inuit knowledge will play a role in the International Maritime Organization’s review of underwater noise reduction as the UN body undertakes a review of its voluntary guidelines.

The decision was taken at the meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Sub-Committee on Ship Design (SDC 8) last week.

Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the organization that represents the about 180,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka, Russia, and which has observer status with the IMO, have lobbied for the initiative saying underwater noise pollution is particular concern in the Arctic and that Inuit and Aboriginal participation would be essential.

“Inuit depend on shipping for essential goods and services, and Inuit communities also depend on the sea for their livelihoods and food,” said Lisa Koperqualuk, ICC Canada’s international vice-president, in a statement. Press.

“Our economy and our culture depend on safe, low-impact and clean shipping.”

A file photo of Lisa Koperqualuk, International Vice-President of ICC Canada, at COP26. “To date, the current IMO guidelines on reducing noise pollution from ships are voluntary, which has led to minimal implementation by industry,” ICC said this week.

Guidelines are redesigned

Underwater noise can be caused by everything from ship propellers to hull shape and on-board machinery.

The Arctic Council, an international forum made up of the eight Arctic countries and six Arctic indigenous groups, including the ICC, notes that underwater noise is already known to affect certain species of whales as well as fish like arctic cod and shorthorn sculpin.

ICC says they are hearing increasing complaints from Inuit communities in places like Baffin Island in Canada, who say increased shipping traffic is affecting marine mammals like the narwhal.

IMO approved Guidelines for reducing underwater noise caused by commercial shipping in 2014.

In it, the organization presented advice to shipbuilders, designers and ship operators on how to reduce underwater noise caused by ship structures. They covered everything from choosing better designs for hulls and propellers to standardizing how underwater noise should be measured.

Arctic cod, pictured in northern Norway in 2018, is a species that adjusts its home range due to ship noise. (Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)

The IMO also highlighted the importance of the location of machinery on board and asked manufacturers for information on the noise of their equipment so that ship designers can better mitigate the noise they generate.

However, the voluntary nature of the guidelines means that there has been little progress, say the Inuit and some NGOs.

In the summary of the meeting on its website, the IMO said a review was important.

“The international community recognizes that underwater noise emitted by ships can have both short- and long-term negative consequences on marine life, especially marine mammals,” the IMO said.

“The objective of the review is to provide up-to-date recommendations based on the latest developments in ship design and technology and to address barriers to their adoption with the aim of achieving significant and measurable noise reduction. emitted by ships underwater.”

A 2015 file photo of the propellers of a cruise ship. Propellers are one of the main causes of underwater noise pollution. (Georges Gobet/AFP via Getty Images)

Group to examine ways to increase adoption

The IMO has set up a conference group to look at all aspects of the issue as well as amend the 2014 guidelines and explore ways to increase adoption. The group will also be responsible for integrating Indigenous knowledge into its work as well as enabling Inuit and Indigenous communities to engage in the process.

“As an organ of the United Nations, IMO must consider and fully implement UNDRIP, including in our collective work here today,” Koperqualuk said.

ICC received provisional consultative status with the International Maritime Organization in November, and Koperqualuk said last week’s meeting shows why it’s important to include northern indigenous voices in the process.

“We are the first indigenous organization to achieve this status and we hope this will be the start of a new relationship between IMO and its members with indigenous peoples around the world, and especially in the Arctic.

Recommendations for updates to the guidelines will be presented at tMarine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80) in 2023.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

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