It’s too loud in the Mediterranean: scientists present the first underwater noise map

Reblogged from the Tethys Research Institute website.


Human activities using loud noise sources cover very big portions of the Mediterranean Sea, as announced in a special press release by OceanCare. Their impacts on marine wildlife should be cause of concern; in several clearly identifiable areas noise-producing activities accumulate, and many of these so-called noise hotspots overlap with important cetacean habitats. This is a conclusion reached by scientists from France, Italy, Switzerland and the US who – for the first time – present a basin-wide map that shows the density of the main anthropogenic noise sources in the Mediterranean Sea. The results of the report ”Overview of the Noise Hotspots in the ACCOBAMS Area, Part I – Mediterranean Sea” for the period 2005 to 2015, are drawn from a dataset covering 1446 harbours and marinas, 228 oil drilling platforms, 830 seismic exploration activities, 7 million ship positions, publicly available information regarding military activities, and 52 wind farm projects.noise

 The increase in seismic activities is particularly striking, especially in connection with oil and gas explorations which deploy so-called ‘airguns’ sending loud impulsive noise of up to 260 decibels towards the sea floor about every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months at a time. While 3.8 % of the Mediterranean’s surface was affected by such airgun use in 2005, this share increased to 27 % in 2013. The scientists also found that an average value of around 1,500 commercial vessels are contemporarily present in the area – at any given time – not taking into account leisure crafts and fishing vessels. Considering that data surrounding military activities – such as manoeuvres, use of medium and low frequency sonar (LFAS, MFAS) for submarine detection, etc. are generally not available to the public, such results for this sector represents an underestimation of the reality of the situation as well.


Noise-cetacean interaction hotspots: overlap of noise hotspots and important cetacean habitats

Crucially, through such mapping exercise, the scientists were able to reveal several noise hotspots overlapping with areas that are of particular importance to noise-susceptible marine mammal species, and/or areas that are already declared protected areas. Such important cetacean habitats include the Pelagos Marine Mammal Sanctuary in the Ligurian Sea, the Strait of Sicily, and parts of the Hellenic Trench, as well as waters between the Balearic Islands and continental Spain where noise-producing activities accumulate, according to the report. The risk for the marine animals in such areas is thus high, as they are exposed to cumulative and synergistic noise, and hence, extensive sources of stress.

Such threat has also been recognised by the Spanish Government. Their Ministry of the Environment recently announced that the waters between the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland will be designated a protected migration corridor for whales and dolphins, which will also result in strict management measures for noise producing activities.

“This report is the first basis for a purposeful development of noise reducing measures. It substantiates the urgent need for action to establish a transparent data register on anthropogenic noise sources in the Mediterranean and to take measures to reduce the problem”, says Silvia Frey, PhD, co-author of the report and director for science and education at OceanCare. Implementing such a register is also part of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive’s current action plan.

“With this report, we stand at the beginning of an acoustic assessment of the Mediterranean Sea as a marine habitat. Thus far, only noise sources which are timely and spatially incomplete could be identified. Hence, there is further need for scientific investigations into noise levels within the Mediterranean and, moreover, into what can be assessed as an acceptable and safe noise limit. Nevertheless, this first glance is remarkable and the extent of the noise sources is worrisome”, explains Frey.

“The present mapping also reveals data weaknesses, as we have to assume that some areas currently identified as ‘quiet’, particularly along the coastline of Northern Africa, are only considered quiet due to a lack of data. In particular, activities by oil and gas companies, as well as the military remain largely obscure”, adds Nicolas Entrup, consultant on underwater noise pollution for OceanCare and for US-based organisation NRDC.

“For the first time we have a wide spatial and temporal vision of the multiple and often overlapping human activities that produce noise underwater and that may have synergistic and cumulative effects on marine life. We now need models to map sound levels and sound exposure. We should not forget that conservation also means ‘conserving the acoustic quality of the habitats’”, says Gianni Pavan, co-author of the report and professor of the University of Pavia, Italy.

“Loud noise sources appear to cover very big portions of the Mediterranean Sea, and, of course, their impacts on marine wildlife propagate, regardless of human boundaries. Although far from being exhaustive, results shown in this study point out the need of a regulatory framework which takes into account the transboundary effects of man-made noise on the marine environment”, Alessio Maglio, co-author and scientist at SINAY SAS, adds.

Manuel Castellote, PhD, co-author and scientist at NOAA, concludes: “With this report we have barely grasped the tip of the iceberg when it comes to underwater noise occurrence in the Mediterranean Sea. A major concern is the amount of silent Mediterranean countries, silent when it comes to information sharing, not underwater silence!”

The report was commissioned by the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS) in order to identify areas of concern, to propose the need for further scientific assessment, as well as to deduce appropriate conservation measures.


More information:

Full report “Overview of the Noise Hotspots in the ACCOBAMS Area. Part I – Mediterranean Sea“

Short video ‘Underwater Noise – The Overlooked Catastrophe’ and the brochure ‘Drowning in Sound’.

Further information on the Silent Oceans Campaign:

Seas At Risk : What the EU can do to stop marine litter – New study out now

Ocean News

“For this commandment . . . is not . . . beyon...

IEEP report marine litter – There is no easy way to tackle the issue of marine litter: it is complicated and has many causes, impacts and inputs. As a high percentage of marine litter comes from land based sources, EU legislation is possibly the best way to address the problem and look for solutions.

In order to provide some concrete guidance on the potential for existing EU legislation to tackle the multitude of land based sources of marine litter items, Seas At Risk commissioned a study from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). Their mission was to outline which existing pieces of EU legislation could be amended to ensure a significant drop in marine litter, and whether new legislation might be required to fill gaps in the existing body of regulation.

The IEEP study “How to improve EU legislation to tackle marine litter” provides an excellent overview of EU…

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back from portugal

The 27th annual conference of the European Cetacean Society (ECS) finished only few days ago and we are already thinking about 2014. In fact, the next annual conference of the ECS will be held in Liege, Belgium, between 4-8 April.

My personal contribution to the 27th ECS conference, related to my work with the Tethys Research Institute,  was given through one long talk during the main conference, one poster presentation and one invited talk at one of the workshops. If interested, please give a look at the following:

Lauriano G., Panigada S., Pierantonio N., Donovan G. 2013. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive abundance and distribution indicators: a case study for the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the central Mediterranean Sea based on aerial survey data. 27th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society, Setubal, Portugal, 8-10 April 2013. (Poster)

Knowledge of baseline parameters for a given population is fundamental to address many questions of ecological importance and for the implementation of conservation measures and an assessment of their effectiveness. Under the pillar of the European Habitat Directives, monitoring the status of species of community interest represents a legal obligation for the Member States. Recently, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which is aimed at achieving or maintaining a “good environmental status”, has requested regular reports on the population dynamics, range and status of species in Europe’s waters. The Mediterranean Sea common bottlenose dolphin sub-population is included in international agreements and conventions and it has been assessed as Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List Criteria. In 2010, line transect aerial surveys were conducted in a wide area included in the Western Mediterranean Sea Assessment Area (the Pelagos Sanctuary, the Central and the south Tyrrhenian Seas and the Seas of Corsica and Sardinia). Overall, 165 parallel transects, 15 km apart and totaling 21,189 km, were designed providing homogeneous coverage probability. In total, 21,090 km were flown on effort and 16 bottlenose dolphin sightings were recorded and used for abundance and density estimates. Differences were detected across the study area. The uncorrected (for availability and detection bias) abundance for the whole study area was 1,676 (CV= 38.25; 95% CI= 804 – 3492) with a density of 0.005 (CV=38.25%) and an encounter rate of 0.000758 groups/km (CV=27.5%). These first estimates for this species over such a wide area represent a useful baseline dataset to provide information following the requisites of the MSFD requirements and to inform conservation measures on both national and international levels. Aerial surveys, in conjunction with other studies (e.g. photo-identification) can provide a cost-effective means of fulfilling requirements under the MSFD and provide a valuable contribution to conservation efforts.

Panigada S., Lauriano G., Zanardelli M., Pierantonio N., Donovan G.P., Zerbini A., Geyer Y., Druon J-N., Fossi M.C., Notarbartolo di Sciara G. 2013. Satellite tracking of fin whales in the Pelagos Sanctuary (Western Mediterranean Sea). 27th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society, Setubal, Portugal, 8-10 April 2013. (Oral presentation)

In recent decades, several studies have been carried out to describe summer habitat use, behaviour, distribution and abundance of fin whales in the northwestern Mediterranean.  However, knowledge of their distribution and movements during other seasons remains scarce. The present project was funded by the Italian Ministry of the Environment to investigate post-summer fine scale habitat use, movements and migration routes/destinations of fin whales. Location-only satellite transmitters (SPOT5, Wildlife Computers) were attached to eight individuals in the Pelagos Sanctuary (September 2012). Deployments occurred as late in the summer as possible, to maximise information outside known summer feeding grounds. Two different models using different attachment mechanisms were used (‘LIMPET’ n=3 and ‘implantable’ n=5),  inter alia to examine potential differences in performance for future fin whales’ studies. An important component of the project was to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of tag designs and deployment to assist worldwide efforts to improve telemetry research programmes. At the time of writing, two implantables are still transmitting; LIMPET tags lasted max=35 days (mean=25) and implantables thus far max=83 days (mean=55.2). Fine scale associations with oceanographic features and potential feeding habitats within the Sanctuary are being investigated. Preliminary results indicate that tagged fin whales remained in the Pelagos Sanctuary feeding ground longer than expected, possibly due to the current particularly mild climate conditions which allowed  prolonged feeding activities in the area. Two individuals left the Pelagos area and moved towards the Balearic Islands, remaining in a defined area (100×100 km) for approximately 20 days before moving towards the Gulf of Lions. Ongoing data collection, coupled with further deployments, could provide insights on small and large scale feeding behaviour and migratory routes. Alongside information on threats (e.g. vessel traffic), telemetry data are important for helping to develop focussed mitigation measures and providing baseline data to measure their effectiveness.

Pierantonio N., Airoldi S. 2013. Sperm whale monitoring in the Ligurian Sea: addressing present and future challenges. 27th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society, Setubal, Portugal, 8-10 April 2013. (Invited talk)

The Mediterranean subpopulation of sperm whales is currently classified as “Endangered” according to the IUCN Red List criteria. Despite the research effort carried out during the last decades in many sectors of the Mediterranean where the species is considered regular, various aspects of its ecology are still poorly understood. Filling the gap in our current knowledge is essential to inform conservation and to propose and adopt proper mitigation strategies. We have studied the species in the Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean) during the last three decades, generating one of the largest datasets throughout the Mediterranean region. Several aspects have been investigated such as the spatial and temporal distribution, the habitat use and preferences, population size, acoustics, the effects of climate change, ship strikes and other forms of interaction with human activity. Research effort and data collection is still ongoing, along with the investigation of other ecological aspects. Using different techniques short- and long-term movements and identification of migration patterns are under investigation, as well as animals’ size and growth rates. While some of these aspects might not have a direct relevance for the conservation of the species and/or might vary longitudinally throughout the basin, they constitute important pieces towards a better understanding of the macroecology of the species. Considering the current conservation status of the Mediterranean sperm whale sub-population and the volume and diversity of pressures with potential harmful effects, the regular monitoring of sperm whales at regional scale is highly recommended. Moreover, the necessity for adequate management actions is crucial considering that these threats likely result in a continuing decline in the number of individuals. Finally, a collaborative effort and interdisciplinary approach are suggested towards an effective conservation strategy able to cope both with the dynamism of anthropogenic pressures and the new challenges posed by climate change.