University project to study impact of sound on behaviour of marine life

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A NEW study of the impact of noise on the behaviour of fish and crustaceans could inform the development of offshore wind farms around the UK, according to researchers.

The new Hull University research project uses underwater television, high frequency sonar and playback system to replicate and monitor the effect of any artificial noise in the sea, such as ships, concrete piling strokes or offshore wind turbines.

Marine Noise – The Effect of Underwater Noise in Fish and Crustaceans’ Behavioural Responses in the Field is being carried out by the university’s Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies (IECS) as part of the SoundWave consortium. This also involves the University of Newcastle and two private companies, Subacoustech and Loughine. It is due to be completed in 2013.

Academics believe the findings of the Defra-funded project could impact a number of sectors such as port development, offshore wind and marine energy, offshore oil and gas, and the fishing industry.

Dr Rafael Perez-Dominguez said that the research was urgently required to inform industry and guide regulatory and consenting agencies on planning applications. “The results of the project will lead to precise valuations of the real impact of underwater noise on marine ecosystems during environmental impact assessments exercises,” he said.

Sea trials are due to start in the coming months on the new Newcastle University research vessel, The Princess Royal, off the Northumberland coast near Blyth.

The specially developed experimental equipment will use a powerful underwater loudspeaker system, one of the world’s largest non-military sound systems available.

“Whether marine fish or crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters are affected by human underwater noise is open to debate and requires scientific investigation of which there has been very little,” said Dr Perez-Dominguez.

The research team believes that the programme should generate the experimental data necessary to forecast direct effects on a number of important fish species and crustaceans including the edible crab and the European lobster.