Noise Pollution & Why It Is Threatening Marine Life

Noise pollution is an overlooked catastrophe…

Ocean noise pollution is invisible to the human eye, and now it has become one of the deadliest threats against marine life and the health of our oceans, I am here to tell you why.

Most marine life, particularly marine mammals and fish, are very sensitive to noise, plus they depend on sound to navigate, communicate, and catch prey.

Here comes the bad news…

Unfortunately, sound levels in the oceans are constantly rising.

Noise travels long distances underwater, and when military sonar is used to locate submarines, it can interfere with the marine animal’s hearing, which can be very dangerous. We already know this because increases in seismic noise have decreased species diversity in whales and dolphins.


Marine Life Internal Injuries & Strandings

The most worrying result of ocean noise pollution is marine mammal (cetacean) strandings. Whale and dolphin strandings have been closely monitored and correlated with frequent naval sonar manoeuvres.

These extreme sounds have caused vascular damage to the brain, lungs, and other organs of marine mammals. In addition to this, many of these cetaceans may also panic and rush to the surface, causing nitrogen bubbles to accumulate in the blood. This is also known as decompression sickness, or the bends, which can also happen to scuba divers if they ascend too fast.

Decompression sickness and arterial gas embolisms in cetaceans can cause death, and when they die, they will either sink to the seafloor or they will get beached along the coastline.


Physical Damage to Marine Life

Like us, marine life can also experience hearing damage or loss from extremely loud noises. Marine animals like dolphins rely on hearing for communication, sensing danger, finding a mate, and hunting prey.

Other implications from increased underwater noise include impaired growth in shrimp, cell changes in lobsters, and disruption of schooling fish.

Elevated underwater noise not only has physical damage, but it weakens the immune system of marine life, making them more susceptible to illnesses and diseases.


Marine Life Leaving Habitats

Imagine if you had noisy neighbours or suddenly had building construction going on next door. Soon enough, you would want to move house, right? Well, this is exactly how marine animals feel when anthropogenic ocean noises increase.

Ocean noise pollution causes marine life to leave their valuable habitats because of the direct impact the noise has on their home or because their prey has moved, and they have to follow it.

When marine animals are forced to move because of noise disruption, it impacts their mating routine, source of food, and how they nurse the young.

There is no doubt that marine life is likely compromised by underwater anthropogenic noise.

As noise levels are on the rise, we must manage underwater noise pollution both nationally and internationally before we cause irreversible damage to the marine ecosystem.


How Can Noise Pollution In the Ocean be Reduced?

Tackling noise pollution is no overnight process, however, companies and governing bodies can start with these potential solutions:

  • Redesign the propellers of vessels to reduce less noise.

  • Change shipping routes to avoid migratory marine animals.

  • Use lower-intensity seismic vibrations.

  • Apply acoustic bubble curtains on energy generation stations.


Written by Darby Bonner

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