Over the last decade the issue of underwater noise pollution has received increased attention from scientific bodies, the media, NGOs, and institutions at the national, supranational and international levels. This in turn, has led to the development of several regulatory initiatives that seek to mitigate the negative impact of this source of pollution. This article outlines and analyses existing legislation and management regimes that govern marine activities that generate noise. Best practices and specific mitigation measures are also addressed and assessed.
Soundscapes and Acoustics
Destructive fishing using explosives occurs in a number of countries worldwide, negatively impacting coral reefs and fisheries on which millions of people rely. Documenting, quantifying and combating the problem has proved problematic. In March–April 2015 231 h of acoustic data were collected over 2692 km of systematically laid transects along the entire coast of Tanzania. A total of 318 blasts were confirmed using a combination of manual and supervised semi-autonomous detection. Blasts were detected along the entire coastline, but almost 62% were within 80 km of Dar es Salaam, where blast frequency reached almost 10 blasts/h. This study is one of the first to use acoustic monitoring to provide a spatial assessment of the intensity of blast fishing. This can be a useful tool that can provide reliable data to define hotspots where the activity is concentrated and determine where enforcement should be focused for maximum impact.
Canadian Arctic and Subarctic regions experience a rapid decrease of sea ice accompanied with increasing shipping traffic. The resulting time-space changes in shipping noise are studied for four key regions of this pristine environment, for 2013 traffic conditions and a hypothetical tenfold traffic increase. A probabilistic modeling and mapping framework, called Ramdam, which integrates the intrinsic variability and uncertainties of shipping noise and its effects on marine habitats, is developed and applied. A substantial transformation of soundscapes is observed in areas where shipping noise changes from present occasional-transient contributor to a dominant noise source. Examination of impacts on low-frequency mammals within ecologically and biologically significant areas reveals that shipping noise has the potential to trigger behavioral responses and masking in the future, although no risk of temporary or permanent hearing threshold shifts is noted. Such probabilistic modeling and mapping is strategic in marine spatial planning of this emerging noise issues.
An alternate management system is introduced which uses seasonal and spatially explicit multi-species quotas generated from small-scale cooperative fishery acoustic surveys to manage the Aleutian Islands walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) fishery while limiting impacts on the endangered Western stock of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus). This is a novel collaboration among scientists, industry, and Alaska Natives considering a cooperative management approach. The proposed system integrates the catch monitoring and accounting systems already in place in the federal groundfish fisheries off Alaska with cooperative acoustic survey biomass estimates to facilitate more refined spatial and temporal fishery management decisions. Conditions were examined under which such a system could operate successfully and results from field work conducted to assess technical requirements were discussed. During field trials biomass estimates from each survey were produced within 24-h of survey completion. This suggests spatial abundance estimates can be available in a timely manner for managing local fisheries. The proposed management system was found feasible and relatively easy to initiate because of highly motivated and cooperative industry partners, a well-established mechanism for setting allowable catch limits, and a robust catch accounting system already in place. In addition, high quality commercial echosounders required for this system are currently used by industry and, with proper controls on calibration and survey design, produce biomass estimates of sufficient quality. The application of this approach beyond this case study is also discussed for managing fisheries worldwide where fine temporal and spatial scale management could benefit the conservation of other protected species.
Hydroacoustic technologies are widely used in fisheries research but few studies have used them to examine the effects of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). We evaluate the efficacy of hydroacoustics to examine the effects of closure to fishing and habitat type on fish populations in the Cabo Pulmo National Park (CPNP), Mexico, and compare these methods to Underwater Visual Censuses (UVC). Fish density, biomass and size were all significantly higher inside the CPNP (299%, 144% and 52% respectively) than outside in non-MPA control areas. These values were much higher when only accounting for the reefs within the CPNP (4715%, 6970% and 97% respectively) highlighting the importance of both habitat complexity and protection from fishing for fish populations. Acoustic estimates of fish biomass over reef-specific sites did not differ significantly from those estimated using UVC data, although acoustic densities were less due to higher numbers of small fish recorded by UVC. There is thus considerable merit in nesting UVC surveys, also providing species information, within hydroacoustic surveys. This study is a valuable starting point in demonstrating the utility of hydroacoustics to assess the effects of coastal MPAs on fish populations, something that has been underutilised in MPA design, formation and management.
During summer 2012 Shell performed exploratory drilling at Sivulliq, a lease holding located in the autumn migration corridor of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), northwest of Camden Bay in the Beaufort Sea. The drilling operation involved a number of vessels performing various activities, such as towing the drill rig, anchor handling, and drilling. Acoustic data were collected with six arrays of directional recorders (DASARs) deployed on the seafloor over ~7 weeks in Aug–Oct. Whale calls produced within 2 km of each DASAR were identified and localized using triangulation. A “tone index” was defined to quantify the presence and amplitude of tonal sounds from industrial machinery. The presence of airgun pulses originating from distant seismic operations was also quantified. For each 10-min period at each of the 40 recorders, the number of whale calls localized was matched with the “dose” of industrial sound received, and the relationship between calling rates and industrial sound was modeled using negative binomial regression. The analysis showed that with increasing tone levels, bowhead whale calling rates initially increased, peaked, and then decreased. This dual behavioral response is similar to that described for bowhead whales and airgun pulses in earlier work. Increasing call repetition rates can be a viable strategy for combating decreased detectability of signals arising from moderate increases in background noise. Meanwhile, as noise increases, the benefits of calling may decrease because information transfer becomes increasingly error-prone, and at some point calling may no longer be worth the effort.
Ship noise pollution has raised considerable concerns among regulatory agencies and cetacean researchers worldwide. There is an urgent need to quantify ship noise in coastal areas and assess its potential biological impacts. In this study, underwater broadband noise from commercial ships in a critical habitat of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins was recorded and analyzed. Data analysis indicated that the ship noise caused by the investigated commercial ships with an average length of 134 ± 81 m, traveling at 18.8 ± 2.5 km/h [mean ± standard deviation (SD), n = 21] comprises mid-to-high components with frequencies approaching and exceeding 100 kHz, and the ship noise could be sensed auditorily by Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins within most of their sensitive frequency range. The contributions of ship noise to ambient noise were highest in two third-octave bands with center frequencies of 8 and 50 kHz, which are within the sensitive hearing range of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and overlap the frequency of sounds that are biologically significant to the dolphins. It is estimated that ship noise in these third-octave bands can be auditorily sensed by and potentially affect the dolphins within 2290 ± 1172 m and 848 ± 358 m (mean ± SD, n = 21), respectively.
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is located in Massachusetts Bay off the densely populated northeast coast of the United States; subsequently, the marine inhabitants of the area are exposed to elevated levels of anthropogenic underwater sound, particularly due to commercial shipping. The current study investigated the alteration of estimated effective communication spaces at three spawning locations for populations of the commercially and ecologically important fishes, Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus). Both the ambient sound pressure levels and the estimated effective vocalization radii, estimated through spherical spreading models, fluctuated dramatically during the three-month recording periods. Increases in sound pressure level appeared to be largely driven by large vessel activity, and accordingly exhibited a significant positive correlation with the number of Automatic Identification System tracked vessels at the two of the three sites. The near constant high levels of low frequency sound and consequential reduction in the communication space observed at these recording sites during times of high vocalization activity raises significant concerns that communication between conspecifics may be compromised during critical biological periods. This study takes the first steps in evaluating these animals’ communication spaces and alteration of these spaces due to anthropogenic underwater sound.
The soundscapes of four bays along the Kona Coast of Hawaii Island were monitored between January 2011 and March 2013. Equivalent, unweighted sound pressure levels within standard 1/3rd-octave bands (dB re: 1 μPa) were calculated for each recording. Sound levels increased at night and were lowest during the daytime when spinner dolphins use the bays to rest. A tsunami provided an opportunity to monitor the soundscape with little anthropogenic component. We detected a decrease in sound levels and variability in one of the busiest bays. During the daytime in the 3.15 kHz 1/3rd octave band, we detected 92 loud outliers from vessels, aquaculture, and military mid-frequency active sonar. During one military mid-frequency active sonar event sound levels reached 45.8 dB above median ambient noise levels. The differences found in the bays illustrate the importance of understanding soundscapes to effectively manage noise pollution in marine ecosystems.
There is an increasing concern that anthropogenic noise could have a significant impact on the marine environment, but there is still insufficient data for most invertebrates. What do they perceive? We investigated this question in oysters Magallana gigas (Crassostrea gigas) using pure tone exposures, accelerometer fixed on the oyster shell and hydrophone in the water column. Groups of 16 oysters were exposed to quantifiable waterborne sinusoidal sounds in the range of 10 Hz to 20 kHz at various acoustic energies. The experiment was conducted in running seawater using an experimental flume equipped with suspended loudspeakers. The sensitivity of the oysters was measured by recording their valve movements by high-frequency noninvasive valvometry. The tests were 3 min tone exposures including a 70 sec fade-in period. Three endpoints were analysed: the ratio of responding individuals in the group, the resulting changes of valve opening amplitude and the response latency. At high enough acoustic energy, oysters transiently closed their valves in response to frequencies in the range of 10 to <1000 Hz, with maximum sensitivity from 10 to 200 Hz. The minimum acoustic energy required to elicit a response was 0.02 m∙s-2 at 122 dBrms re 1 μPa for frequencies ranging from 10 to 80 Hz. As a partial valve closure cannot be differentiated from a nociceptive response, it is very likely that oysters detect sounds at lower acoustic energy. The mechanism involved in sound detection and the ecological consequences are discussed.