Impact of noise on marine life assessed

A group of scientists has conducted the first survey of how human-made artificial noise affects marine life.

Animals such as whales, seals, fish and possibly invertebrates use sound for foraging, navigation and communication. But knowledge of how artificial noise affects sea life is "incomplete, frequently inconclusive and occasionally contradictory", said the group.

The research was carried out under the OSPAR Convention for the protection of the marine environment in the north-east Atlantic. It includes the European states bordering the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, together with Switzerland, Finland and the European Commission.

The report’s first part documents the proven effects of human activities such as offshore construction, mineral extraction, shipping, sonar and seismic surveys.1

The second assesses the regional distribution of noise-generating activities, their regulation and likely impacts, and offers recommendations for mitigation and research.2

The work is timely, given the growth in marine renewables such as wind, wave and tidal generation, which are expected to increase undersea noise.

The parties to ASCOBANS, a related treaty on small cetaceans such as dolphins, agreed to precautionary guidelines on construction noise from renewables this September.3 The pile driving required disturbs dolphins and can even cause physical injury.

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