Testing the Effects of Underwater Noise on Aquatic Animals

Post provided by Karen de Jong

Most people assume that research equipment is expensive and complicated. But, it doesn’t need to be and the noise egg is a perfect example of this. It consists of a watertight container (as used by scuba divers) and the buzzer from a cellphone and does exactly what it says: it produces low frequency noise. This allows researchers to test the effect of noise on underwater life. It is a small, simple and cheap device that anyone can build.

Why Test Effects of Noise?

A painted goby in front of his nest ©K. de Jong

A painted goby in front of his nest ©K. de Jong

Underwater noise is rapidly increasing due to, for example, boat traffic and offshore wind farms. This can lead to stress for animals and difficulties in communication. Just as people have a hard time communicating in a noisy pub, animals may struggle to get their messages across when background noise is high. A nice description of how animals use sound and how noise may affect this can be found at www.dosits.org

While there is some knowledge on the effect of noise on large aquatic animals, we still know very little about how fish and other small aquatic animals are affected. Such knowledge is vital for management of protected areas. It’s also important to know whether wind farms and boat traffic can affect reproduction in populations of underwater resources such as fish and mussels. The answers to these questions are likely to be species specific, so we’ll need data on a large number of species in different habitats. Continue reading


New Tool to Assess Effects of Powerful Man-Made Underwater Sounds

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘An interim framework for assessing the population consequences of disturbance‘ taken from the University of St Andrews:

A team of scientists from the University of St Andrews has developed a new desktop tool for assessing the impact of noise from human disturbance, such as offshore wind development on marine mammal populations.

PCOD_PR_imageThe team, led by Prof. John Harwood, have developed the interim Population Consequences of Disturbance (PCoD) framework for assessing the consequences of human induced noise disturbance on animal populations. The study was published yesterday in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Changes in natural patterns of animal behaviour and physiology resulting from animals being disturbed may alter the conservation status of a population if the activity affects the ability of individuals to survive, breed or grow. However, information to forecast population-level consequences of such changes is often lacking. The project team developed an interim framework to assess impacts when empirical information is sparse. Crucially, the model shows how daily effects of being disturbed, which are often straightforward to estimate, can be scaled to the duration of disturbance and to multiple sources of disturbance.

“We have developed a novel framework that can be used to broadly forecast the consequences of anthropogenic disturbance on animal populations, which in principal can be applied to a range of marine and terrestrial species and different types of disturbance.” – Dr Stephanie King

One important application for the interim PCoD framework is in the marine industry. Many industries use practices that involve the generation of underwater noise. These include shipping, oil and gas exploration, defence activities and port, harbour and renewable energy construction. Continue reading