The impact of man-made noise in our marine environment

Published on: 14 April 2016

Dr Steve Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Biosciences, is working with national and international organisations to shape new policy and licencing decisions related to man-made noise in our marine environment. 

Dr Simpson’s research, funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), maps the impact that anthropogenic (human-made) noise has on fish and marine invertebrates.

Small fish are three times more vulnerable to predators when there are high levels of noise in the marine environment, which often leads to parent fish losing or abandoning their larvae, impacting on whole populations. Noisy conditions can also disrupt feeding patterns for crabs and make them less effective at defending themselves when threatened.

Some of the main sources of human-made noise in oceans and coral reefs are pile driving (driving metal tubes into the seabed to build off-shore wind farms), ship engine noise and air guns used to find offshore fossil fuels.

By sharing this research with UK government agencies such as DEFRA and Cefas, and the International Maritime Organization responsible for shipping regulations, Dr Simpson is helping reduce the level of noise around marine ecosystems. His findings are also helping officials make decisions about the location of shipping lanes, and where and when to build new wind farms.  

Dr Simpson has also strengthened links between academia and industry in his recent role as a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, and in 2015 contributed to David Attenborough’s BBC series and website, Great Barrier Reef.  

He speaks highly of his current partnerships with marine organisations saying: “One of the most positive things about working with noise is that the people who make the noise are really open to trying to reduce their impacts. Unlike many pollutants we have got direct control over noise, and we can choose when and where we make it.” 

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