Keep it down, will ya?
Underwater noise pollution caused by construction and development is stressing out fish and preventing them from properly escaping predators.
In a study published Thursday, researchers from Newcastle University in the UK found that when they exposed European seabass to recorded sounds of drilling and piling (sticking large stakes in the ground as a foundation for structures), the fish showed increased signs of stress. Many coastal countries, including Canada, are struggling with this: On the British Columbia coast, there's been concern among environmentalists that noise pollution related to Kinder Morgan's planned pipeline and the increased marine traffic that come with it could drive some endangered species of whales extinct.
"Over the last few decades, the sea has become a very noisy place," lead researcher Ilaria Spiga said in a statement. In this study, which focused on European seabass specifically, "effects we saw were subtle changes, which may well have the potential to disrupt the seabass' ability to remain 'in tune' with its environment."
For these fish, the constant underwater cacophony can cause problems when it comes to predators. According to the study, seabass typically use a method called "startle and response," where they hear an unusual sound, get frightened, and then escape from potential predatory danger. But being exposed to a loud ambient noise would make it harder to properly discern and react to an approaching predator.
The study also found that the seabass actively avoided areas where these noises were most present, which could deter them from coming to spawning grounds and reproducing.
Other reports have shown that underwater ambient noise in the Northwest Pacific increased 3.3 decibels per year from 1950 to 2007, amounting to an increase of about 20 decibels. Sound travels much faster and further underwater, which explains why marine noise pollution has been a big issue in recent years, especially regarding its effect on whales, whose sonar navigation can be hampered by noises from ships and seismic surveys. There have also been some reported instances of naval sonar causing brain hemorrhages in marine animals.
Canada's Ocean Protection Plan, announced late last year, includes provisions to protect marine mammals from noise polluting incidents by tracking their movements and providing that information to companies operating in the area.
Advocacy groups such as the Natural Resource Defense Council are also working to require companies and governments to have marine noise-reducing policies implemented in their operations.
The study suggests that to mitigate these negative effects, developers use drilling over other alternatives, which reduces some of the more immediate side effects, and leave breaks in between sessions to allow the fish to recover.
It wouldn't hurt to give them a pair of earmuffs either.
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