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An international group of environmentalists has called on the United Nations to protect marine life from the potentially damaging effects of sonar. The plea comes as delegates from 148 nations meet in New York to consult on marine law.

Intense sound waves are thought by many to cause dolphins and whales to become stranded on land. Since 1985, groups of marine mammals have been stranded on the coasts of Greece, Hawaii and New Zealand. In each case, the Ocean Noise Coalition said, the strandings were close to high intensity sonar events, or coincided with the use of industrial 'air guns' that are used in oil and gas exploration.

In a statement on its website, the coalition says that intense sound can cause a range of effects on cetaceans, including "death and serious injury caused by hemorrhages [sic] or other tissue trauma; strandings; temporary and permanent hearing loss or impairment; displacement from preferred habitat and disruption of feeding, breeding, nursing, communication, sensing and other behaviors [sic] vital to the survival of these species.".

Similar concerns exist for potential impacts on other marine species, including fish, the coalition explained. It cited studies showing that fish can be seriously injured or even killed by sonar, Reuters reports.

"Scientific studies have demonstrated that airguns have the potential to injure and significantly reduce catch rates of certain fish species at substantial distances," it says, arguing that this contributes to the depletion of fish stocks.

The coalition says that the UN has an obligation to take action under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which requires signatories to protect the marine environment. It argues that new technologies, including passive sonar and alternative energy sources could help reduce the noise pollution below the waves.

The US says that sonar use cannot be regulated because it is a matter of national security. The European Parliament, and the International Whaling Commission, meanwhile, support the introduction of international controls, the coalition said. ®

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