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Monitoring impulsive noise in UK waters

Case Study 2019

Monitoring impulsive noise in UK waters – developing the Marine Noise Registry

Image: Depiction of noise monitored during an offshore survey

Underwater noise from human activities can affect marine organisms from fish to marine mammals in a variety of ways, from masking sounds used to communicate and find food, to physical injury and even death. Understanding when and where noisy activities take place will help define a baseline level for impulsive noise in UK waters and will inform research on the impacts of noise, particularly on vulnerable species.

JNCC has developed, hosts and manages the UK Marine Noise Registry (MNR) on behalf of UK Government and devolved administrations. This online portal and database compiles data on loud, low to medium frequency impulsive noise in UK seas. It includes data from 2015 onwards on when and where impulsive noise was produced due to activities such as geophysical surveys, pile-driving, military sonar and underwater explosions.

The data are available under the Open Government Licence and are enhanced by comprehensive outputs published yearly. Our staff have been involved since the project’s inception, working closely with the regulators of activities to ensure the data are accurate and as comprehensive as possible. Nevertheless, there are still caveats and limitations which need to be considered when drawing conclusions from the data and products.

The MNR allows us to look at how prevalent noise is. It also helps us to spot patterns – such as particularly noisy areas and seasonal differences. The data are mapped using Oil and Gas Licensing Blocks as the spatial unit. Between 2015 and 2017, geophysical surveys, such as those used for oil and gas exploration, accounted for the greatest proportion of noisy days and are the most widespread activity. However, except for localised hotspots (up to 101 days of noise in one block in 2017), the great majority of blocks have less than five days’ noise.

The characterisation and understanding of this marine pressure, combined with data on the distribution of species vulnerable to noise gives us an insight into the potential effects of noise on ecosystems. This then helps us to manage noise, ensuring it remains at levels that do not adversely affect the marine environment.

Aspirations for future work include making the data in the MNR more readily accessible through an interactive visualising online tool.

 

Team: Marine Management

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