The soundscape of the Anthropocene ocean

Sound travels faster and farther in water than in air. Over evolutionary time, many marine organisms have come to rely on sound production, transmission, and reception for key aspects of their lives. These important behaviors are threatened by an increasing cacophony in the marine environment as human-produced sounds have become louder and more prevalent. Duarte et al. review the importance of biologically produced sounds and the ways in which anthropogenically produced sounds are affecting the marine soundscape. Published in the journal Science 05 Feb 2021:Vol. 371, Issue 6529, this review article discusses how anthropogenic noise negatively affects marine animals. Strong evidence for such impacts is available for marine mammals, and some studies also find impacts for fishes and invertebrates, marine birds, and reptiles. Noise from vessels, active sonar, synthetic sounds (artificial tones and white noise), and acoustic deterrent devices are all found to affect marine animals, as are noise from energy and construction infrastructure and seismic surveys. Although there is clear evidence that noise compromises hearing ability and induces physiological and behavioral changes in marine animals, there is lower confidence that anthropogenic noise increases the mortality of marine animals and the settlement of their larvae.

Therefore, Durate et al. call for anthropogenic noise to be included  in assessments of cumulative pressures on marine ecosystems. Compared with other stressors that are persistent in the environment, such as carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere or persistent organic pollutants delivered to marine ecosystems, anthropogenic noise is typically a point-source pollutant, the effects of which decline swiftly once sources are removed. The evidence summarized in this article encourages national and international policies to become more ambitious in regulating and deploying existing technological solutions to mitigate marine noise and improve the human stewardship of ocean soundscapes to maintain a healthy ocean. This study provides a range of solutions that may help, supported by appropriate managerial and policy frameworks that may help to mitigate impacts on marine animals derived from anthropogenic noise and perturbations of soundscapes.

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