The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is instrumental for the EU to protect the marine environment and first acknowledged underwater noise as a pollutant. It aims to mitigate impacts on marine species from underwater noise and perturbations of soundscapes. The MSFD interacts with other international agreements that address underwater noise, like OSPAR (Regional Sea Convention).
OSPAR is the mechanism by which 15 governments and the EU cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. In 2010, OSPAR adopted the North East Atlantic Environment Strategy, which included the implementation of the MSFD. Underwater sound is addressed in the thematic section on Biological Diversity and Ecosystems, where the aim is to endeavour to keep the introduction of energy, including underwater noise, at levels that do not adversely affect the marine environment.
The MSFD and OSPAR share a common vision of an ecosystem approach to managing economic activities impacting on the marine environment, resulting in “good environmental status”. The MSFD dedicates one of its descriptors of environmental status to underwater noise. As part of this descriptor, it sets out how to assess the extent to which “good environmental status” is being achieved for both impulsive and ambient noise.
The MSFD also mandates that EU member states monitor and mitigate noise pollution as part of their efforts to obtain “good environmental status”. For impulsive and ambient noise, EU member states need to define threshold values for excess levels through transnational cooperation, taking into account regional or subregional specificities. This work is being steered by a technical group on underwater noise (TG Noise). This binding nature of the MSFD makes it the most ambitious international agreement put in place.
The MSFD has a six-year reporting cycle. Every six years an assessment has to be reported to the European Commission based on the result of a monitoring programme. The OSPAR reporting cycle has been designed to align with the MSFD cycle, such that the OSPAR assessments can be used for the MSFD as well. For both MSFD and OSPAR purposes, quantifying the pressures has been identified as a first priority in the assessment of sound impacts. This information must be collected, analysed and processed through a joint monitoring programme.