Feds eye better control of ocean noise pollution

A draft plan to reduce noise pollution impacts on ocean life is open for public comment. @bberwyn photo.

NOAA releases draft strategy for public comment

Staff Report

With more than enough scientific evidence showing that noise pollution is harming marine life, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week said it wants to do more to to try and address those impacts. Citing large increases in underwater noise generated by human activity, the agency posted a draft Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap for managing noise impacts.

Last fall, a group of leading scientists called for global standards on noise pollution, singling out the impacts of seismic blasting in the quest for oil and gas as being especially harmful. Another scientific article advocated for quiet ocean zones that could serve as sanctuaries and reference areas to learn more about how noise affects marine life. Naval warfare training is another big concern, and federal court recently spelled out how military plans have failed to account for impacts to marine mammals. European scientists have also documented how seismic blasting causes displacement of fin whales more than 150 miles from the source of the noise.

The roadmap doesn’t include prescriptive actions that will shield dolphins, whales and other ocean species, but the document summarizes the latest science on the issue and recommends “cross-agency actions that could be taken to achieve more comprehensive management of noise impacts.” Learn more at NOAA’s Ocean Acoustics website.

Noise pollution in the oceans comes from a variety of sources, including sonar activities and naval warfare training, commercial shipping and seismic airgun blasting for fossil fuel exploration. All those activities cause potentially deafening noise that makes it harder for animals to  find food, select mates, avoid predators, and navigate.

The new programmatic look by NOAA may help address the impacts in a more systematic way, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been advocating for stricter management of noise pollution.

“This holds great promise for managing noise as the pervasive ocean pollutant it has become, said Michael Jasny, director of the NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project.” The key, though, is implementation—and that takes resources, and a timeline for getting it done. We hope this means that NOAA, after years of inaction, is turning a corner on a critical conservation issue,” Jasny said.

The roadmap calls for better collection of information on how underwater noise is increasing and suggests that NOAA could help address noise pollution by promoting quieter technologies, making better use of existing laws to minimize disruption of important marine mammal habitat, and restoring the natural soundscape in National Marine Sanctuaries.

Read more in this blog post by Jasny, or learn more about a recently released documentary on ocean noise pollution here.

Here’s some of what NOAA had to say in the executive summary of the draft:

“Additionally, sound is a fundamental component of the physical and biological habitat that many aquatic animals and ecosystems have evolved to rely on over millions of years. In just the last 100 years human activities have caused large increases in noise and changes in soundscapes. These changes can lead to reduced ability to detect and interpret environmental cues that animals use to select mates, find food, maintain group structure and relationships, avoid predators, navigate, and perform other critical life functions. Therefore, NOAA’s management goals and actions should aim to address chronic effects and conserve the quality of acoustic habitat in addition to minimizing more direct adverse physical and behavioral impacts on specific species.

We invite comments on the NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap.  The mailbox address for providing email comments is Comment.ONS@noaa.gov. Please include “ONS Roadmap Comments” in the subject line and any supporting data or literature citations with your comments, as appropriate.  Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25 megabyte file size. NOAA is not responsible for e-mail comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Public comment will be accepted through July 1, 2016.”





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