Updated: Jun 12, 2022
We humans, we might like it, going clubbing and blasting our ear drums with high decibel noise that is sometimes called music. But sea fish and mammals don’t. They hate it.
For sea organisms, natural ocean sound is an essential signal for feeding, navigation, communication, predator avoidance, reproduction and social interaction in the ocean. If we alter it, we start inducing a range of adverse effects on marine life, from small impacts to significant behavioral changes too, and in some cases the death of marine mammals. The harmful effects of noise pollution impact on all underwater living organisms, from huge blue whales to tiny zooplankton.
Underwater noise from sound-emitting industries such as shipping, offshore wind farms construction, and seismic surveying for oil and gas is becoming recognised as a significant pollutant. Not only by fish and sea mammals, but finally also by humans indirectly. Underwater noise is affecting key industries including fisheries and ecotourism, and the diving we enjoy so much.
As divers know, sound travels over 4 times faster underwater than it does in the air. This speed also makes it difficult for us to easily distinguish where the sound is coming from. At certain sound frequencies and levels, underwater noise can cause dizziness, disorientation, and a serious danger to scuba divers. It is in our common interest to stop, or at least minimize, this underwater boogie-boogie environment.
In 2020 when 60% of all humans were in lockdown, the level of manmade, artificial noise in the oceans was reduced by about 20%.
This resulted in observation of large sea mammals in coastal areas where they have not been seen for decades. Unlike tackling ocean plastic pollution or fertilizer runoffs that will take generations to sort it out, turning down the volume in artificial underwater noise can produce very rapid results. We have noise standards for cars, trucks, locomotives, planes, factory machinery, office equipment and many other pieces of equipment we encounter on land every day, why should we not have them for all equipment used in oceans?
Collectively, as well as individually, let’s lobby policy makers, and advocate for the introduction and enforcement of underwater noise limits.
Personally, I think jet-skis would make a good starting point.