Last week I attended the “International Quiet Ocean Experiment” (IQOE) at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The founding premise of the meeting is a bit outrageous – that somehow all maritime nations could come together and halt all of their ocean noise-making activities for some short period of time to observe the effects of this military-industrial silence on marine life.
Of course the idea of halting some 50,000 ocean transport vessels, all navies, marine petroleum operations, fishing fleets, mining and dredging, energy projects, underwater communications, pleasure craft, and seismic exploration is absurd. But the true incentive behind this improbable assertion was to bring together leading scientists and policy makers, explore our concerns, and devise a ten-year plan to understand and mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic noise on ocean life.
This first gathering represents a huge step in the right direction. When the issue first came up in he early 1990’s there was little consensus on anything. The geological-scale experiments at the time were being conducted by physical oceanographers who frankly did not understand biology; the biologists involved had forgotten their physics, and most of the work was being funded by the biggest noise-makers – whose priorities were not focused on conservation.
The IQOE discussions explored many topics, including observing systems technologies, the meaning of “ocean soundscapes,” what science is needed, how to conduct informative experiments, and how to measure the long-term and synergistic impacts of noise on marine life.
Many fine ideas were advanced and new thinking was cultivated which will help direct research and mitigation strategies for the next decade. There was a remarkable climate of collegiality and collaboration, and if there was any serious contention at the end of the day it was about the name – which we all agreed was an unlikely conceit. But using the name as a “branding” or marketing ploy really got under the fingernails of some of the scientists.
The name may change (although I doubt it), but we will keep you informed as the framing documents are issued and the project progresses.
Stay Tuned! More details to come.