Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada: discussion document

Table of contents

Executive summary

Human activities in or near the ocean can create underwater noise. These unnatural sound sources can interfere with the normal activities of marine animals, forcing them to contend with a changing, sometimes harmful, and occasionally even lethal, ocean soundscape. Increased human activity in the marine environment has led to an increase in underwater noise to the extent that it is now a large and complex problem requiring a whole-of- government response and action from concerned Canadians.

The Government of Canada (the Government) has key responsibilities for identifying, assessing, and managing the impacts of human-induced underwater noise in the marine environment. Acknowledging the severity of this growing problem, the Government is committed to developing a long-term plan called the Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada (the Strategy) to help address the issue of human-induced underwater noise. As a first step toward the development of the Strategy, and using current federal and other collaborative initiatives as a foundation, federal departments and agencies have worked together to develop this Discussion Document (the Document) to provide information and obtain feedback on the framework proposed for the Strategy. Comments received on this Document will direct our next steps. These will include the development of a draft Strategy with initial recommendations for further improvement of federal practices and management approaches.

The Purpose and Scope of the Document are addressed in the first chapter to clarify objectives. Chapter 2 establishes a common platform by providing background information on the importance of the issue and the negative impact underwater noise is having on marine species. Chapter 2 also outlines the rationale for a Government of Canada Strategy to address the impacts of underwater noise on the marine ecosystem, and provides examples of work done to date. Chapter 3 sets out sustainable development and a precautionary approach based on risk as principles that will guide the creation of the Strategy.

Having established this foundation, Chapter 4 details the three themes and 11 objectives proposed as a framework for the Strategy; these are outlined directly below.

Themes and objectives proposed for the Ocean Noise Strategy

Theme 1: Science research and technology development

Objectives proposed for Theme 1:

  • improve the Government of Canada's coordination and planning of science research and technology development activities, including monitoring
  • improve the Government of Canada’s ability to integrate and share the results and outcomes of science research and technology development activities
  • improve the Government of Canada’s ability to identify knowledge gaps with respect to science research and noise technology development

Theme 2: Ocean, coastal, and estuarial impact assessment and management

Objectives proposed for Theme 2:

  • clarify national management of human-induced underwater ocean noise in support of sustainable development and biodiversity protection
  • support greater coordination and information sharing among ocean users and ocean regulators to better inform and implement effective management measures for noise
  • improve the Government of Canada’s ability to identify gaps in underwater noise management
  • provide long-term guidance for the Government of Canada on the management of human activities that contribute to underwater ocean noise, together with recommendations for all aspects of coordinated management
  • improve the Government of Canada’s ability to contribute to management of underwater noise in areas that cross international borders

Theme 3: Outreach and communication

Objectives proposed for Theme 3:

  • increase transparency through improved education and communication of underwater noise impacts and management approaches
  • increase awareness among ocean users and the public of the impacts of underwater ocean noise
  • facilitate dissemination and communication of science research and technology to ocean users and the public

There are six question boxes located within this Document. You are invited to respond to any or all of the questions, or provide any additional comments. Feedback can be provided through a form on the Ocean Noise Strategy consultation page or the Marine Environmental Quality email address. Please see Annex 2 for contact information.

The feedback we receive on this Document will help to validate, change, or expand these proposed concepts. In this way, Canadians will be provided an opportunity to guide the direction of the Government of Canada and its partners in our collective efforts to enhance coordination and effectively manage the impacts of underwater ocean noise.

The Document concludes with a chapter on next steps that outlines how development of the Strategy is expected to proceed.

Chapter 1: Purpose and scope of the discussion document

Purpose of the discussion document

Defining terms

Anthropogenic (Human-induced): Caused, or produced, by humans.

The Government of Canada (the Government) has key responsibilities for identifying, assessing, and managing the impacts of anthropogenic, or human-induced, underwater noise in the marine environment. Increased human activity in the marine environment has led to an increase in underwater noise to the extent that it is now a large and complex problem requiring a whole-of-government response and action from concerned Canadians. The Government is committed to developing an Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada (the Strategy) by building on current federal and other collaborative initiatives in Canada’s oceans that are improving our understanding and management of underwater ocean noise.

The Government recognizes the value of engaging and integrating various perspectives on important issues, and understands that many groups have an interest in underwater ocean noise, including:

Defining terms

Biodiversity: Refers to the variability among living organisms from all sources, including diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

  • federal, provincial and territorial regulators with a responsibility for habitat and biodiversity protection, as well as sustainable development
  • Indigenous peoples who have concerns over how noise affects the fish stocks and other marine species that have cultural, nutritional, and employment significance
  • stakeholders and other marine resource users (fish harvesters, shipping industry, dredgers, oil and gas industry, recreational watercraft users, and many others)
  • environmental non-government organizations
  • academia and researchers
  • all interested Canadians

Because of the wide-ranging nature of this issue, a number of relevant federal departments and agencies have collaborated on this Discussion Document (the Document) to provide an overview for those who may not be familiar with the impacts of underwater noise, and a mechanism for obtaining feedback on the structure proposed for the Strategy. Specifically, the purpose of this Document is to:

  • introduce and increase awareness of the issue of ocean noise
  • highlight current related work, including collaborations with and contributions by various partners and organizations across Canada and internationally
  • provide a mechanism for identifying knowledge gaps
  • receive and share feedback on a proposed framework for an Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada, including major principles, themes, objectives and timelines
  • engage stakeholders and Canadians on this Government of Canada initiative

This process provides an opportunity for governments, Indigenous peoples, industry stakeholders, coastal communities, other marine resource users, and the public to guide the direction of the Government and its partners in their efforts to enhance coordination and effectively manage the impacts of underwater noise in Canada’s oceans. Comments received will inform next steps, including the development of a draft Strategy that will include initial recommendations for further improving federal practices and management, by summer 2021.

We invite you to read the Document and consider the questions located within the associated sections. Your feedback can be provided through a form on the Ocean Noise Strategy consultation page or directly to the Marine Environmental Quality email address. Please see Annex 2 for further contact information.

Scope of the discussion document

Defining terms

Mitigate: To make less severe; to lessen in force or intensity.

This Document was developed to help focus attention on the issue of human- induced underwater ocean noise, and examine what the Government can include as part of a national Strategy to help improve coordination and planning of efforts to reduce unwanted sound and mitigate its impacts on the species that reside, forage or breed in, or migrate through, Canadian waters. That is a large and complex task, but there are limits to the scope of this Document:

Geographical boundaries: The Strategy is intended to address the fundamental elements of coordination and planning surrounding noise science and management activities in estuaries, coastal, and marine waters only. In other words, the Strategy’s geographical boundaries extend to the limits of Canada’s ocean estate in the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic, with the last also including the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence Estuary. Therefore, this Document will neither refer to nor is intended to be associated with noise issues in the Great Lakes system, or in other Canadian freshwater lakes or rivers.

Types of noise: While underwater ocean noise can result from both human-induced and natural sources, only the former is in scope for the Document. By “human-induced,” we mean noise that is caused by humans even if it is not directly produced by them.

Types of species: All marine species are included in the scope of the Document. Whales may be the animals most affected by ocean noise, but they are not alone. Underwater noise has the potential to impact all marine life, including other marine mammals, fish, diving seabirds, sea turtles, and even smaller organisms such as zooplankton. In fact, noise is an identified threat to the recovery of many marine species listed in the Species At Risk Act.

Who should respond? All concerned Canadians are invited to read the Document and provide comments on it. While we expect to hear from Indigenous peoples, ocean stakeholders, and the regulating community (across all affected jurisdictions), we also hope to hear from researchers in academia and industry, other marine resource users, and Canadians who are interested in learning more about the impact of ocean noise on marine animals. The Document has been written in a way to be as accessible as possible. Where we have had to use technical terms, they are defined in short text boxes with more complete definitions available in the Glossary.

Are there limits to comments? No. There are six question boxes embedded in the Document that reflect our desire to identify elements we may have missed or overlooked, but readers are free to address anything in the Document.

Chapter 2: Background

What is ocean noise and why is it important?

Sound is a critical element to life in the ocean. While light dissipates quickly under water, sound travels long distances in the ocean because saltwater is a good conductor of sound. Many marine animals use sound to navigate, communicate, and find food in their generally dark environment, sometimes following or responding to sounds over great distances. Marine animals use sound to monitor their environment and assist with key behaviours such as socializing, foraging for food, finding mating partners, and avoiding predators.

Sources of human-induced (anthropogenic) underwater noise

Common sources of human-induced marine noise include (but are not limited to):

  • commercial and recreational vessels
  • in or near-water construction activities such as dredging and pile driving
  • seismic surveying used for research or natural resource exploration
  • active sonar used for marine navigation, communication and detection

Human activities within or near the ocean can create underwater noise. Since the industrial revolution, human activity in coastal and offshore environments has resulted in more machinery and a subsequent increase in ocean noise. Ship propellers, seismic air guns, and sonar arrays all transmit sound directly in the water; above-water sources also contribute to underwater ocean noise but to a lesser degree. Regardless of the origin, these unnatural sound sources can interfere with the normal activities of marine animals, forcing them to contend with a changing, sometimes harmful, and occasionally even lethal, ocean soundscape.

How noise impacts marine animals is complex and difficult to measure. While the general physics of sound in the marine environment is well understood, it is difficult to quantify the specific extent to which noise affects different marine species – from giant whales to tiny zooplankton. However, it is known that noise is an identified threat to the recovery of many marine species listed in the Species At Risk Act.

Impacts can vary from acute to chronic in their effect, may be immediate or long term in their duration, and may affect individual animals or entire populations. Additionally, data collected from noise sources and/or species in one location cannot necessarily be applied to another location or species as oceanographic conditions such as temperature, salinity and the contours of the seabed affect how underwater noise travels and is received by any given animal. Animals may even react to the same volume and source of noise in a different manner depending on the time of year and their activities at the time.

Defining terms

Acute: 
Sharp or intense in effect.
Chronic:
Long term; persistent.
Cumulative impacts/effects:
Changes to the environment that are caused by an action in combination with other past, present and future human actions.
Frequency:
The number of sound wave cycles that occur in one second, measured in Hertz (Hz).
Masking:
Occurs when noise interferes with a marine animal’s ability to hear a sound of interest.

Impacts can vary from acute to chronic, may be immediate or long term in their duration, and may affect individual animals or entire populations. Additionally, data collected from noise sources and/or species in one location cannot necessarily be applied to another location or species as oceanographic conditions such as temperature, salinity and the contours of the seabed affect how underwater noise travels and is received by any given animal. Animals may even react to the same volume and source of noise in a different manner depending on the time of year and their activities at the time.

Underwater ocean noise has been linked to a wide range of impacts, including but not limited to:

  • disruption of normal behaviour
  • alteration or loss of habitat
  • masking of sounds produced by marine animals affecting their ability to communicate
  • changes in their physiology, behaviour and/or stress levels
  • permanent injury or even death

Current research indicates that some species may be more sensitive to human-induced noise than others. Various physical, physiological, and behavioural responses have been observed based on the length of exposure, loudness, and frequency (Hz) of the sound to which the animals have been exposed. The combined impacts (or cumulative effects) associated with exposure to multiple sources of noise and other stressors (e.g., lack of available food) on marine species is an important area that requires further study. Current research also indicates that reducing underwater ocean noise can reduce cumulative pressures on marine ecosystems.

The Arctic: A unique situation

Research on the effects of noise on Arctic species is very limited. However, understanding the behaviour of noise and its impacts on Arctic species is critical as an increase in noise levels in the Arctic Ocean may have more consequential effects on certain species than in other regions where animals may have become habituated over time.  At high latitudes, because of the unique biophysical and chemical characteristics of Arctic waters,  noise from vessel traffic is transmitted great distances and closer to the surface compared to temperate waters. As a result, impacts observed on marine animals in other water bodies will not necessarily be the same as on Arctic species, even in the same species or population. 

Inuit communities have expressed concerns about noise associated with increases in vessel traffic and potential oil and gas activities. Arctic communities rely on marine animals for subsistence and given that longer ice-free seasons have already resulted in an increase in vessel activity, there is concern that noise can have behavioural and physiological impacts on different species, at both the individual and population levels.

Why do we need a Government of Canada underwater Ocean Noise Strategy?

There has been a substantial increase in human-induced noise emissions in the global marine environment over the past several decades, as well as better awareness of and concern over the effects associated with this noise. This awareness has highlighted the need for additional science research, acoustic monitoring, technology development, and effective underwater noise management, including mitigation measures. As a result, the Government is undertaking multiple science and technology, management, and outreach activities related to the issue of ocean noise. Through initiatives such as the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) and the Whales Initiative, for example, the Government is working with Indigenous peoples, provincial and territorial governments, businesses and industries, local stakeholders, coastal communities, and international partners to address threats to marine life, including the impacts of underwater ocean noise from marine shipping and other sources, to support marine ecosystem conservation.

As many organizations in Canada and around the world are working on this issue, a more coordinated approach would ensure the most effective responses. Collaboration among federal organizations and outside partners will be key to the successful development and implementation of any action plan. To help in this endeavor, the Government will develop an Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada to establish a long-term (5-10 year) roadmap for the whole-of-government approach needed to address the increase in detrimental human-induced noise. Three themes are proposed to guide this Government of Canada Strategy:

  1. federal science research and technology development
  2. impact assessment and management (including monitoring and mitigation) of human-induced marine noise in Canada’s oceans
  3. approaches for outreach and communication

The Strategy will also help to further coordinate and integrate collaborative efforts to:   

  • advance our understanding of underwater noise and its effects on marine species
  • identify remaining knowledge gaps
  • increase awareness among different groups of ocean users about underwater ocean noise and its impacts on marine species
  • provide information and direction for industry and ocean users to assist them in minimizing the noise impacts created by their own activities
  • integrate best practices from other leading organizations and determine how these can be applied in this context
  • facilitate the potential for proactive approaches to address the questions and challenges associated with effective management of noise in the marine environment

Defining terms

Transboundary: Having effect across a boundary; for example, marine boundaries between Canada and the United States, or Canada and Greenland.

The importance of a coordinated and proactive approach to understanding and managing the effects of underwater noise on marine species has been highlighted by the forward planning initiatives developed in other jurisdictions. These include the Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the noise mitigation component of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive. While the Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada is meant to have a domestic focus, it will help direct and inform Canada’s continuing international oceans leadership and engagement, improve management  of underwater noise within our borders, and contribute to management of underwater noise in transboundary areas, as well as areas beyond our borders.

Ultimately, the Strategy is envisioned as a long-term (5-10 year) guide with recommendations that may be used to plan future federal efforts to address issues identified through this Document. The Strategy will be intentionally flexible to be able to adapt recommendations according to new science as it develops; however, there is no intention at this point of using the Strategy to set requirements or targets for ocean noise.

Government of Canada science, management, and communication activities

The Government is leading the development of this Strategy to identify and review past and current work undertaken by the federal government and its partners to better understand the impact of underwater noise on the marine ecosystem and determine how unwanted sound can be further addressed in the long term. This information can be used to help identify gaps, inform planning, and make recommendations for future research and management actions. Details on current ocean noise initiatives and activities can be found in the following sections.

Our question to you

What is the most important thing that the Government of Canada should do to better understand and minimize the impacts of underwater ocean noise?

Chapter 3: Guiding principles for the strategy

Successful coordination and planning to advance understanding and effective management of ocean noise requires a common set of principles, shared among organizations. In addition to embracing the broader Government of Canada priorities of working together on the issues that matter most to Canadians, including protecting the environment, offering an open and transparent government and moving forward on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, we propose that the Ocean Noise Strategy be directed by two specific guiding principles: sustainable development and a precautionary approach based on risk.

Sustainable development

Canada has committed to protect and conserve marine ecosystems while enabling sustainable use of its oceans to ensure that those resources are available for present and future generations. International commitments under United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 call on Canada to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

The Strategy will contribute to Canada’s achievement of this common goal – promoting prosperity while protecting the environment – by ensuring that the economic, social, and environmental pillars of sustainable development are an integral part of every aspect of the management process.

Precautionary approach based on risk

Canadian legislation, including the Oceans Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, refers to the use of precaution in making decisions to protect the environment and human health. The precautionary approach in decision making errs on the side of caution in the absence of scientific certainty. In this instance, the precautionary approach means that lack of full scientific certainty must not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to reduce the effects of anthropogenic underwater noise.

Depending on the context of an underwater noise event, exposure can produce a number of physical and behavioural responses in individual animals. However, the significance of these responses at a population or ecosystem level is sometimes challenging to quantify. One solution is to take a risk-based approach, assuming that the risk of adverse consequences increases with increased exposure to underwater noise. Managing this exposure will ultimately help to mitigate the overall risk to a group of animals or to a particular ecosystem.

Because noise is pervasive in the environment and can affect different species differently (depending on their hearing and/or sound-detection capabilities, etc.), a careful and holistic management approach is warranted. Therefore, the principle of a precautionary and risk-based approach will be reflected in the Strategy to guide coordination and planning of scientific and management initiatives relating to ocean noise produced by human activities.

Our question to you

Do you agree with the two guiding principles (sustainable development and a precautionary approach based on risk) that have been proposed to guide the development of the Strategy? Are there other guiding principles that should be included?

Chapter 4: Proposed Ocean Noise Strategy themes and objectives

Three themes and 11 related objectives have been identified and are proposed as essential structural elements of the Strategy. We invite you to provide feedback on these elements, noting that many aspects of the Strategy will cross over themes.

Theme 1: Science research and technology development

There is ongoing science research and technology development in both the public and private sectors dedicated to better understanding the impact of underwater noise on marine species and finding ways to reduce anthropogenic noise levels.

Examples of public- and private-sector work in this area range from Government of Canada activities focused on ocean noise impacts on endangered whales to the important collaborative efforts of non-government organizations, universities, and the marine industry, including ports, ferry operators and the shipping industry in assessing and analysing underwater noise and its effects on marine life and on reducing underwater noise generated by human activities.

Objectives proposed for the science research and technology development element of the Strategy:

  • Improve the Government of Canada's coordination and planning of science research and technology development activities, including monitoring
  • Improve the Government of Canada’s ability to integrate and share the results and outcomes of science research and technology development activities
  • Improve the Government of Canada’s ability to identify knowledge gaps with respect to science research and noise technology development

The Strategy is expected to help guide a concentrated effort to improve our understanding of the potential impacts of underwater noise on marine species, including diving seabirds. Recommendations related to this theme are expected to support future management decisions regarding impacts to marine life and sustainable development. Identification of knowledge gaps and common platforms can be used to plan future work and science and technology investments.

To learn more - Examples of science research and technology development initiatives:

Marine Environmental Quality
Webpage provides information about projects currently being undertaken through the Marine Environmental Quality Science initiative to better understand how shipping-related noise affects whales.

International Efforts on Quiet Vessels
The linked document includes Executive Summary, Recommendations and Conclusions of a Transport Canada technical workshop entitled “Quieting Ships to Protect the Marine Environment” (2019).

Quiet Vessel Initiative
A Transport Canada initiative that is testing the most promising low-noise ship designs and technologies. Results will drive the adoption of these innovations – domestically and internationally.

Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat
The Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) coordinates the scientific peer review and science advice for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The link provides an example of directed research into the exposure of blue whale habitats to shipping noise in the St. Lawrence system (2016).

Environmental Studies Research Fund
The Environmental Studies Research Fund finances research related to oil and gas exploration and development on frontier lands, including environmental effects on marine species. Linked webpage includes scientific reports (1985-2018).

Nature Legacy
The Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk enables applicants to design and deliver projects that address priority threats and contribute to the protection and recovery of aquatic species at risk in priority places. The linked webpage identifies priority places and threats to aquatic species at risk (2019).

Our question to you

With respect to human-induced underwater noise, are there any marine ecosystems or species, technologies, and/or areas of scientific research that you think should be considered as future priorities?

Theme 2: Ocean, coastal, and estuarial impact assessment and management

Impact assessment and management of underwater noise can be challenging. Assessing the ecosystem impacts of underwater noise involves analyzing and interpreting volumes of different types of information from multiple sources, sometimes without a standardized methodology for measuring or reporting. Management responsibilities are spread across many federal departments and agencies, with some responsibilities also in the purview of provinces and territories. Greater coordination and planning will help avoid duplication, increase transparency, and clarify responsibilities.

Using the principles of sustainable development and a precautionary, risk-based approach to mitigating the impacts of underwater noise requires a focused effort and a high degree of coordination, both within governments and among ocean users. In addition, there are international and transboundary issues that may require coordination of management and regulatory regimes.

Objectives proposed for the impact assessment and management element of the Strategy

  • Clarify national management of human-induced underwater ocean noise in support of sustainable development and biodiversity protection
  • Support greater coordination and information sharing among ocean users and ocean regulators to better inform and implement effective management measures for noise
  • Improve the Government of Canada’s ability to identify gaps in underwater noise management
  • Provide long-term guidance for the Government of Canada on the management of human activities that contribute to underwater ocean noise, together with recommendations for all aspects of coordinated management
  • Improve the Government of Canada’s ability to contribute to management of underwater noise in areas that cross international borders

The Strategy will help to highlight and coordinate underwater noise management efforts and activities across governments, organizations and institutions, from assessing ocean noise due to human activities (e.g., vessel traffic, port construction), to protecting marine animals from human-induced noise through mitigation and management measures (e.g., vessel slowdown zones). The integration of management activities across all organizations can also provide the opportunity to develop a plan to address acute, chronic, and cumulative impacts of underwater noise on those species found in Canadian waters. An integrated approach enables an assessment of the effectiveness of existing management measures and can facilitate identification of future initiatives to further mitigate the impacts of ocean noise.

To learn more - Examples of ocean, coastal, and estuarial impact assessment and management:

Marine Projects
Decision Statement regarding the environmental assessment for the marine terminal project on the North Shore of the Saguenay (2018).

Marine Environmental Quality
Webpage provides an overview of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Marine Environmental Quality Management program and efforts to improve management measures and strategies, with options to provide feedback on this Discussion Document (2020).

Shipping Act Amendments
Legislative changes to the Canada Shipping Act to improve environmental protection (2018), for example, to protect endangered whale populations.

Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program
The ECHO Program is a Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led initiative aimed at better understanding and managing the impact of shipping activities on at-risk whales throughout the southern coast of British Columbia. They have piloted and implemented a vessel slowdown in the Salish Sea since 2017 and a lateral displacement of vessels since 2018, as well as undertaken significant research to help better understand the contribution of large commercial vessels to underwater noise in the Salish Sea and options for mitigation.

Vessel Noise Management Plans
BC Ferries has voluntarily developed a noise management plan to reduce its fleet’s overall noise over time (2018). The Government of Canada released a discussion document on a broader policy on such plans for all domestic operators.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)
The IMO is a United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and environmental performance of international shipping. Canada is leading efforts with the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO, concerned with prevention and control of pollution from ships, to add the issue of underwater vessel noise to its work agenda to promote action at the international level.

Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment
This document specifies the mitigation requirements that must be met during the planning and conduct of marine seismic surveys, in order to minimize impacts on life in the oceans (2007).

ANMPA and TNMPA Notice to Mariners – Voluntary Avoidance and Slowdown Areas (see page 1 of the Notice)
This notice provides information on voluntary avoidance and slowdown areas in the Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam and Tarium niryutait Marine Protected Areas for the protection of beluga and bowhead whales (2019).

Species at Risk Program
Recovery strategy for Northern and Southern resident killer whales in Canada (amended 2018).

Our question to you

How are you, your organization, or your community affected by underwater ocean noise, its potential effects or impacts, and its management?

Theme 3: Outreach and communication

The federal government currently engages provinces and territories, Indigenous peoples, stakeholders, and the public about science research priorities and the development and implementation of measures to mitigate the impacts of underwater noise. Ongoing and coordinated communication with our partners, Indigenous groups, and stakeholders is key to timely and successful development and implementation of an Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada. For such a complex issue, the best results can only be achieved by gathering all available information and sharing it as broadly as possible.

For this reason, the Government is already leading a number of discussions (many listed in the “to learn more” section) meant to address future planning and approaches for more effective management of underwater noise issues. The Strategy will help integrate these and future outreach and communication activities related to ocean noise, and help improve federal approaches for engaging and informing Canadians about this important issue. The Strategy will also help to clarify and coordinate underwater noise management responsibilities, thereby reducing overlap and duplication of effort, highlighting opportunities for further collaboration, and providing greater transparency for Canadians through improved communication.

Objectives proposed for the outreach and communication element of the Strategy

  • Increase transparency through improved education and communication of underwater noise impacts and management approaches
  • Increase awareness among ocean users and the public of the impacts of underwater ocean noise
  • Facilitate dissemination and communication of science research and technology to ocean users and the public

Improved communication can have a profound effect on communities. For example, the Strategy will likely contain recommendations to add underwater noise issues to the Government’s education and outreach programs. With these programs in place, we anticipate that when underwater noise scientists communicate the purpose and objectives of their research, the knowledge and enthusiasm of Canadians will increase, paving the way for future action. This approach can also provide direction for ocean industries and resource users to assist them in minimizing the noise impacts created by their own activities.

To learn more - Examples of outreach and communication initiatives:

Let’s Talk Whales
A Government of Canada review of the effectiveness of recovery efforts and recommendations for priority actions (2018).

Let’s Talk OPP
Webpage contains information about the Oceans Protection Plan, its initiatives and priorities (2018).

Working Group on Marine Traffic and Protection of Marine Mammals
(G2T3M)
Collaborative working group formed to propose concrete solutions to reduce the shipping traffic-related risks to which marine mammals are exposed in estuary of the St. Lawrence (2011).

Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO program)
The ECHO Program has developed an infographic focusing on the effects of underwater noise on whales and what mariners can do about it.

Green Marine

Green Marine is an environmental certification program for the North American marine industry. It is a voluntary, transparent and inclusive initiative that addresses key environmental issues, including underwater noise.

Our question to you

What kinds of engagement and communication approaches are necessary to ensure the effective and collaborative development of an Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada?

Our question to you

Do you agree with the themes and objectives that have been proposed to guide the development of the Ocean Noise Strategy? Are there other themes and objectives that should be considered?

Chapter 5: Next steps

This Discussion Document is meant to facilitate further conversations and feedback on underwater ocean noise, including how we can coordinate, collaborate and implement effective management practices through the development of a whole-of-government Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada. We welcome your contributions to this exercise, and we commit to the timelines below.

Draft development milestones Draft timelines
Public Comment Period on Discussion Document  Fall 2020
Release of “What we heard” document  Summer 2021
Anticipated Publication of Draft Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada Summer 2021
Public Comment Period on Draft Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada and Engagement Sessions Summer 2021 – Late Fall 2021
Anticipated Publication of Final Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada 2022

Annex 1: Glossary

Acute: 
Sharp or severe in effect; intense; sudden.
Chronic: 
Persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.
Cumulative impacts or cumulative effects: 
Changes caused by the combined impact of past, present and future human activities and natural processes. Cumulative effects are the result of multiple activities whose individual direct impacts may be relatively minor but in combination with others result in significant environmental impacts.
Frequency:
Frequency is the rate of repetition of a regular event. A sound wave has a repeating pattern and one such repetition is known as a wave cycle. When talking about sound, frequency means the number of these wave cycles that occur in one second, measured in hertz (Hz). Adapted from: www.dosits.org
Human-induced:  
Caused by humans, even if not directly produced by them. For example, it is the engine of a vessel that produces the noise, but it is the operating human who causes or induces the noise by turning the engine on.
Masking:  
Masking occurs when noise interferes with a marine animal’s ability to hear a sound of interest. Both natural (e.g., heavy rain) and human-induced (e.g., engine noise) sound sources can increase the level of background noise in the environment and interfere with an animal’s ability to hear. The significance of the masking effect is influenced by the amount of time that the noise is present and its level.  Source: www.dosits.org
Mitigate: 
To make less severe; to lessen in force or intensity.
Transboundary:
Having effect across a boundary or boundaries. There are several transboundary areas (e.g., the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank) where initiatives are managed cooperatively by Canada and the United States.

Annex 2: Providing feedback

Please provide written comments and feedback, by email or regular mail, to:

Marine Environmental Quality
Marine Planning and Conservation Directorate
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0E6

Web: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/oceans/noise-bruit/index-eng.html
Email: DFO.MarineEnvironmentalQuality-QualiteduMilieuMarin.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca