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Ocean Noise Pollution - The Invisible Threat to Marine Life

Even though we can not see it with our eyes, ocean noise pollution has come to be one of today's deadliest threats against marine life. In an interview by IFAW (04/06/2020) Aurore Morin, IFAW’s Marine Conservation campaigner in France, answers our questions about this invisible threat.

Morin explains that human activity, such as commercial shipping, seismic surveys, oil exploration and military sonar, is the source of ocean noise pollution and that it causes serious threats to a wide range of marine species. Ocean noise impacts whales, dolphins, seals, fish, squid, crustacean and sea turtles since they all use sound in order to navigate, communicate, locate prey, find mates and avoid predators. When this is disrupted it causes stress and change of behaviour which in the worst case can lead to physical injuries and even death.


What is good about ocean noise pollution is that when the source of the noise stops, the pollution stops immediately. We were offered the unique opportunity to observe this by the shutdowns imposed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As they caused human activity to slowed down animal sightings in cities and wild spaces increased. Similarly, the pandemic offered marine life a break from some sources of underwater noise pollution. When marine traffic slowed, the noise pollution from container ships and cruise ships decreased. Morin lets us know that new research is on the way to determine the exact reduction of marine noise as a result of the pandemic, but that it has so far been assumed that the noise environment in our oceans during the global shutdown of 2020 was close to what the oceans would have sounded like 150 years ago. Which translates into a healthier environment for a multitude of marine species.


COVID-19 is a terrible pandemic which has caused unfathomable pain and hardships around the world, but it has also offered us an opportunity to reflect on the consequences of human activity for the ocean. If we can keep in mind how our inactivity benefitted wild animals as we rebuild our economy, we can make it more sustainable for all life on earth.

Currently, there is no international regulation regarding ocean noise. Therefore, Morin and her team continually work with government officials to implement legislations that minimises the pollution. One of the solutions that is most effective is to implement speed restrictions for ships, as this does not only reduce ocean noise, but also greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, ships can be built with optimised noise reduction designs. In the port of Vancouver, ships that have taken measures to reduce their noise pollution get reductions in port fees. The model has been proven to work, which is why Morin and her team is trying to replicate it through out Europe.


However, Morin also tells us that the biggest challenge in reducing the noise pollution is that the public is not aware of the issue. When they interviewed people in the street only one out of five new what it was. This makes it troublesome to bring about change.


Now that we know a bit more about ocean noise pollution, what can we do to help? Morin encourages us to buy locally instead of products that have been shipped from the other side of the world. This can be done by making an effort to buy seasonal fruit and vegetables, that have been produced in our own country. In conclusion, we all need to think about our actions and how they impact the creatures around us.



In the Ted Talk below, Nicola Jones explains the issue further, as well as presents additional measures we can take to reduce the noise.


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