Lisa Koperqualuk, pictured at the Inuit Circumpolar Council annual general meeting in 2022, spoke to Nunatsiaq News about her organization’s push to have mandatory measures on how much noise ships can make in Arctic waters. (Photo courtesy of Carson Tagoona/Makivik Corp.)

ICC wants tougher rules on Arctic underwater shipping noise

Formulating regulations would be complicated, lengthy process, says committee president

By David Lochead

The Inuit Circumpolar Committee wants to see mandatory measures put in place to regulate underwater ship noise.

Current guidelines are voluntary and have not been effective in mitigating the problem, according to ICC president Lisa Koperqualuk, which is why her committee is making a case for the change.

“We feel that mandatory measures will work better to protect the Arctic marine ecosystem,” Koperqualuk said.

The push comes as members of the United Nations International Maritime Organization, which regulates international shipping, recently discussed the guidelines at a subcommittee meeting Jan 23 to 27 in London, U.K.

The ICC participated in the meeting as part of the International Maritime Organization subcommittee.

Noise level in parts of the Arctic, including Canada’s High Arctic, has doubled from 2013 to 2019, according to a report released in 2021 by the Arctic Council.

That increase in sound is due to a rise the number of ships in the Arctic. Between 2013 and 2019, 25 per cent more ships were navigating those waters.

Increased shipping is due not only to mining, but more oil tankers, fishing vessels and cruises, said Dr. Sian Prior, lead adviser to the not-for-profit group Clean Arctic Alliance.

She said increased ship noise interferes with marine animals’ ability to communicate and draws them away from their traditional areas.

In Nunavut, this increased noise level drives marine animals like narwhal away from their usual spots.

Koperqualuk said that in consequence, hunters need to go further to hunt, which requires more time and money.

“It entails more risk,” she said of longer hunting trips.

One way a ship can reduce the underwater noise it creates is to slow its speed. At slower speed, it also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

As for the UN International Marine Organization, mandatory measures have not been included in a revised draft for commercial ship noise.

It’s a complicated process to introduce rules to limit the amount of noise ships can make in international waters. Any motion would need the agreement of the countries in the International Maritime Organization, and non-governmental and industrial organizations would get their say too.

Then, it could take years for all the parties to agree how to formulate and implement those measures, Koperqualuk said.

However, she said ICC was able to convince the organization to include a guideline for ships going through Arctic regions that have historically been occupied by Inuit to consider Indigenous knowledge on how to safely travel through these areas.

“It’s a really good step up from not having anything related to Indigenous knowledge,” she said.

That knowledge includes knowing the migration patterns of marine animals or where those animals give birth.

Right now, the ICC is making its case to become a permanent member of the International Maritime Organization. It’s currently a provisional consultative member, and that status expires at the end of this year.

Countries such as Russia, Japan, United Arab Emirates and China have previously voted against ICC’s involvement.

“We’re hoping to convince any doubters that we do have a place at the [International Maritime Organization],” Koperqualuk said.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Taxpayer on

    Dr Sian Prior is a British Marine Eco-toxicologist. She has never published research on marine mammal behavior or acoustics. Hardly an authority on the subject, as may be presumed by the way this story is written.

    If you read the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) report, you will find the study does not actually measure noise in the Arctic Ocean. Instead, it models noise based on ship traffic data, and for the month of September only (peak time of marine traffic in the Arctic).

    Given how ships often travel slower (and quieter) due to sea conditions and ice, it is certain the study presents a worse case hypothetical scenario.

    For narwhal, this study says nothing about ship noise for when they calve, or when most of them are hunted along coasts. There is nothing in this study comparing model results to marine mammal distributions, so saying one affects the other is pure speculation.

    For example, peak modelled noise inside the Northwest Passage is highest exactly when narwhal and beluga show up in the Central Arctic, which contradicts the idea that these animals avoid ships. Local knowledge instead points to whales following ships into the region.

    In Nunavut, peak (modelled) noise for September in the study was greatest in the middle of David Strait and the approaches to Hudson Strait, not where there are huge concentrations of marine mammals at that time.

    The report does fairly acknowledge uncertainty in interpreting its results, and there is a real need for further study.

    Canada’s Ocean Protection Plan is looking at ship noise, and it is likely our government will act on this matter in the future, hopefully based on what actual subject matter scientists from DFO actually conclude. This can be accomplished without the need for direct intervention from either the ICC or their biased influencers, the Clean Arctic Alliance.

    • Posted by S on

      Thanks “Taxpayer”; I’ll read the attached report also; will try to determine if Lochead, Koperqualuk, and Prior have valid credentials, motives, and concerns

  2. Posted by Bob Lee on

    Ban all cruise ships from entering arctic waters.

    • Posted by Truestory on

      Best read so far. If, B.I.M. isn’t allowed to ship 12 million tons of ore a year, cruise ships shouldn’t be allowed to come to the Arctic Waters too. All ships make noise and the sound travels better underwater. Same B.S..


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