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Noise pollution affects marine life worldwide

Man-made sounds in and around the oceans stress marine life and have an impact on marine species and ecosystems by changing the underwater acoustic climate. Hans Slabbekoorn from the Institute of Biology Leiden pleads for technical solutions to mitigate problems of noise pollution. Science review paper on 4 February.

Sound is fundamental to the sensory world of marine life. Animals, from jellyfish to whales, perceive and use sound for many aspects of their daily activities. They find food and each other by listening to the surrounding soundscapes, and hunt or seek shelter guided by acoustics. Global industrialisation of the ocean has led to the rise of noise pollution through noisy human activities in and around the water. Hans Slabbekoorn, associate professor at the Institute of Biology Leiden, investigates the effects of man-made sounds: ‘Noise pollution in and around the water has led to a decline in the presence of natural sounds of biological origin, like marine mammals, fish and shrimps. It also changes natural sounds of hydrogeological origin such as waves, surf and ice breaking. Human activities therefore have  a detrimental impact on marine species and ecosystems, by changing the underwater acoustic climate through different pathways.’

Encouraging stakeholders

Slabbekoorn published a paper in Science with first author Carlos Duarte and 23 other co-authors on the current state of noise pollution in the oceans around the world. They review the presence of natural sounds and man-made sounds, the evolution and importance of sound to marine animals, and also the evidence for problems and potential for mitigation.

The evidence summarized in the paper aims at encouraging national and international stakeholders to become more ambitious in applying technological solutions to mitigate problems of noise pollution. Slabbekoorn: ‘We aim to improve the human stewardship of ocean soundscapes to maintain a healthy ocean.’ 

Underwater soundscapes

The current review in Science is a product of a workshop organised in January 2019 by Carlos Duarte and Francis Juanes, respectively the first and last author of the current Science paper. At the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, Hans Slabbekoorn gave the key-note presentation to the students and staff of the Red Sea Research Center on “Noise pollution as a global stressor on marine life”. Audio artist Jana Winderen from Norway gave an acoustic performance on underwater soundscapes from all over the world. Together with local and foreign scientists present at the workshop, Slabbekoorn has made plans for more collaboration on noise pollution impact in the Red Sea.

Science review: The soundscape of the Anthropocene ocean

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