Marine Pollution from Underwater Seismic Surveys and International Law

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SIYASAL-JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCES, vol.29, no.1, pp.33-50, 2020 (ESCI) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 29 Issue: 1
  • Publication Date: 2020
  • Doi Number: 10.26650/siyasal.2020.29.1.0076
  • Journal Indexes: Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), TR DİZİN (ULAKBİM)
  • Page Numbers: pp.33-50
  • Keywords: International Law, International Law of the Sea, Marine Pollution, Underwater Noise Pollution, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Convention on Biological Diversity, ASCOBANS, ACCOBAMS, NOISE
  • Anadolu University Affiliated: Yes


Oceans are perceived by humans to be silent, as publicly reiterated by the esteemed Jacques Cousteau. However, this cannot be farther from the truth since ambient noise in an underwater environment is a relatively high one, even if humans fail to hear it. The part of anthropogenic noise in this has been increasing steadily for at least a century and newly developed technologies contribute to this noise immensely. One of these new technologies is the air gun - used in seismic surveys since the 1960's. These guns are used to gather information by emitting sound waves at short intervals of every ten seconds. Seismic surveys have been deemed to be harmless activities by the international courts and arbitration tribunals in their judgments and awards, especially in regards to disputes of maritime delimitation. In cases where states parties to such a dispute refrain from drilling activities, among others, which may potentially jeopardize the marine environment permanently, and execute seismic surveys solely, they will not be held internationally responsible for the activities of the latter kind. However, recent studies have indisputably proven that this is a misrepresentation of the environmental effects of the seismic surveys. This paper aims to throw light upon the real nature of these surveys with a view to establishing whether these activities are transgressions of international law. This is to be endeavored within the purview of two different sources of international law - global rules and regional legal rules. It is the understanding of the author that the international conventions with a global relevance form the framework for the regional and domestic rules, the latter of which is not included in this paper. This inquiry, in its conclusion, tries to come up with suggestions of a practical nature to mitigate underwater noise pollution. The implementation of these measures is significant for those states parties to actual maritime delimitation disputes, since they will augment the legitimacy of the activities carried out by them.