Noise pollution can have a major impact on the environment. One ecosystem that exemplifies the harsh effects of noise pollution is marine life. Life underwater can naturally be pretty loud. Water particles are more densely packed than air particles so sound travels faster. Over time, marine creatures have adapted to use sound as a way to communicate with one another. Some fish, like the smooth-claw snapping fish, even create sounds that are louder than 200 decibels (louder than a gunshot).
One of the most devastating man-made sounds in the ocean is from “seismic surveying.” This is a process that companies use to figure out where they can drill for fossil fuels. Large boats float over potential drilling areas using “airguns” to detect oil in the ocean floor. The sound of these airguns is as loud as a jet takeoff and occurs every 10 seconds. This process goes on for weeks and can be heard over 2,500 miles away from the original noise.
Noise pollution impacts almost all marine life that comes across it. Whales can no longer navigate through water and are often found stranded onshore. In 2002, 14 whales were found stranded in the Canary Islands due to sonar signals. Whales rely on their own communication and man-made signals can disorient them. Other animals suffer from hearing loss and often die as a result. Thousands of invertebrates are also impacted by noise signals, including squid.
The problem of noise pollution is most prominent in the Northern Hemisphere. Whales that roam North Atlantic seas have higher levels of stress hormones. There is also evidence that they have had to adjust the pitch of their calls just to hear each other over the hum of boats. To make matter worse, noise from shipping has double in intensity every decade. This increase in noise pollution has significantly changed the way that whales can communicate with each other and thus, risked their chance of survival.
Here’s the good news: the impact of noise pollution is short-lived. As soon as you switch off the noise, there is no longer a problem. Although progress has been slow, institutions all over the world are working to switch off the noise. In 2015, the United States Navy agreed to limit sonar changes in the U.S. The following year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) introduced Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap.