Not much is known about how loud noises above and below the ocean affect the acoustic world of sea creatures.

Noise levels have risen dramatically over the past century from global cargo traffic, military crafts and sonar bouncers to search for oil and gas. A NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy aims to start measuring the undersea soundscape and finding ways to reduce noise impacts.

“Our job is to understand how that change in the acoustic quality of these places where animals live is affecting them.  We’re particularly concerned about their ability to hear one another at times that are very important in their life histories.”

Dr. Leila Hatch is a marine ecologist at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts. She also co-leads the NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy.

  “NOAA’s Ocean Noise Strategy grew out of an interest in ensuring that over the next decade we’re better addressing the effects of noise on more than marine mammals…from noise effects that are more cumulative effects of many types of human activities, as well as the chronic effects of rising background noise conditions and the types of sources that contribute to those.”

The Ocean Noise Strategy, she says, has a long term vision.

“It’s considering methods that we need to have in place over the longer term and it acknowledges that it will take time to develop some of these methodologies.  This is an issue that needs a forward-looking approach for new technologies that can be designed with less of an acoustic footprint when possible…quieter technologies, quieter ships, quieter methods for gaining information…and that too will take time to engineer.”

Humans experience sound differently than animals, especially underwater. Hatch says NOAA’s Ocean Noise Strategy will create more awareness and hopefully, an inclination to be more thoughtful about the sound scape beneath the surface.

“A lot of the things I’d like to see moving forward are both people’s understanding that the local choices they make can contribute to the global problem, and that they in fact can have a local effect by some of the same choices that they are considering making their overall footprint on the environment…and then the support will be for governments to continue to work together collaboratively with the support of people to understand this problem and  to partner in ways that can track its global reduction.”

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