The Blue Economy of North Sea is important for Europe, both to strengthen a robust economy and to support a resilient society. It generated around € 44 billion in gross value added (a 25% share of the EU total) and 0.7 million direct jobs (a 16% share of the EU total) in 2018. This includes a wide range of sectors like shipping, ports, fisheries, energy generation and coastal tourism. Although the North Sea be considered productive, it cannot according to the European Environment Agency be considered healthy or clean. The increasing economic activities in the North Sea have rapidly changed its underwater soundscape. This negatively affects its marine species, which depend on sound as a primary sense for mating, hunting and survival. Reducing the noise introduced by those activities in the environment has become a matter of urgency.
Globally, the urgency to manage oceans and seas in a more sustainable manner has been recognised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and elsewhere. In Europe, there is an increased recognition that, especially in the Blue Economy, the environment and the economy are intrinsically linked. This is seen in the new agenda for the Blue Economy. This agenda calls for a fundamental shift in focus away from “blue growth” to a sustainable blue economy, in line with the EU Green Deal objectives. It promotes this shift by providing coherence across the Blue Economy sectors, facilitating their coexistence and looking for synergies in the maritime space, without damaging the environment.
In light of the shift to a sustainable blue economy, underwater noise is a pollutant that cannot be ignored and must be addressed through stewardship of the underwater soundscape. This requires policy measures to manage sound in cooperation between the Exclusive Economic Zones of the North Sea and incentivise the deployment of up-to-date technological solutions to reduce noise introduced by economic activities. Such policy measures can have near-immediate, positive effects, as noise pollution does not persist once sources are removed. In spite of this unique opportunity, it has turned out to be a challenging task for policy makers to balance between protecting economic interests and the environment. For this task they require accurate and meaningful information about the effects of economic activities at sea on the environment to inform their policies.