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New guidance helps protect marine mammals from human-generated sounds

News Item 2024

A recent publication by JNCC – JNCC guidance for the use of Passive Acoustic Monitoring in UK waters for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from offshore activities – is providing new guidance on the use of Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) as a tool to minimise the risk of injury to marine mammals from offshore activities.

Sounds generated from certain offshore anthropogenic activities have the potential to cause injury and disturbance to cetaceans and seals. In particular, the noise from activities such as explosive use, geophysical surveys and piling (the process of driving foundations into the bedrock to support offshore structures) could result in an injury offence such as permanent hearing damage as defined under UK regulations.

To help reduce the potential impacts of offshore activity, JNCC has developed a suite of mitigation guidelines through consultation with regulators and industry. These mitigation guidelines promote the use of marine mammal observers who are tasked with visual surveys of a location prior to the start of noisy activity. However, this is not always suitable for the detection of some species, such as deep-diving Beaked and Sperm Whales.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) uses acoustic sensors deployed as part of the overall monitoring package and is the only system currently available that can detect cetaceans' vocalisations underwater.  The use of PAM has been included in JNCC’s mitigation guidelines since their origin in 1995, and this new guidance should be read alongside them. The guidance aims to standardise when the real-time use of PAM is used to mitigate the risk of deliberate injury to marine mammals, whether from explosive use, piling or geophysical surveys. The guidance also includes information on where PAM should be used, particularly in areas of importance such as Marine Protected Areas, and how it should be deployed. It highlights that PAM should only be undertaken by formally trained operatives who are able to monitor the systems in real-time. In most cases, the new guidance will reduce the risk of deliberate injury to marine mammals to negligible levels. 

The PAM guidance has been developed through consultations with stakeholders, including through a workshop jointly hosted by JNCC and the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy at the time of the workshop, subsequently part of the Department for  Energy Security and Net Zero) in March 2021. The workshop was attended by over 100 stakeholders, including regulators, non-governmental organisations, statutory nature conservation bodies, developers, and marine mammal observers.

The PAM guidance (JNCC guidance for the use of Passive Acoustic Monitoring in UK waters for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from offshore activities) and workshop report (Standardisation of Passive Acoustic Monitoring as mitigation in UK waters: Workshop Report) are available through JNCC's Resource Hub. 

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