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Noise of Bottom Trawling Disturbs Marine Mammals, NUIG Study Finds

14th December 2020
A Sperm Whale pod; Irish researchers have found the noise from deep-water trawling can upset whales A Sperm Whale pod; Irish researchers have found the noise from deep-water trawling can upset whales Credit: Wikimedia

Whales are known to be disturbed by the noise of ships and oil and gas drilling, but now a new study says that bottom trawling can also upset marine mammals.

As the Irish Independent reports today, scientists at NUI Galway’s (NUIG) Ryan Institute have found that the sound generated by trawling for fish around underwater canyons is amplified and may affect marine mammals’ ability to hunt and navigate.

The team used hydrophones to record the impact on the marine environment of trawlers in two surveys in the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea.

Ecologically sensitive areas of the oceans need stronger environmental protection from the wide variety of potential pollution sources, including ships, deep-sea mining and bottom trawling, the team suggests.

The scientists modelled how the noise generated by bottom trawling could travel through the water column, along the seabed, and through a 20km long submarine canyon in the Porcupine Basin off the south-west Irish coast.

They found the noise funnels through underwater canyons and into deeper waters, affecting marine mammals feeding and migrating.

They also discovered that “modelled trawler sound” generated on the seabed travels underwater more “efficiently” than sound generated at the surface by boats.

Eoghan Daly, a PhD researcher with NUIG’s Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG), said that raised levels of marine noise can “interfere with a marine mammal’s ability to communicate, hunt and navigate using echolocation”

“Human-derived noise in the world’s oceans comes from many sources”, but “ bottom trawling’s impact has received “little attention to date”, he said.

“In an ocean already faced with plastic pollution and climate change, a better understanding of trawler noise pollution will highlight it as another human impact on the marine ecosystem,” Daly said.

The NUIG team’s findings have been published in the scientific journal, Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The team hopes their research will inform improved environmental regulations near key marine habitats, marine protected areas (MPAs) and any additional special areas of conservation in Irish waters.

Ireland has set a target of designating a total of 30% of its maritime area as MPAs by 2030.

“The research fills an important gap in marine noise pollution monitoring,” Dr Martin White of NUIG said.

“Areas such as the Porcupine Basin and the wider European continental margin are ecologically sensitive, and trawlers operating in this part of the Atlantic Ocean have more powerful engines and heavier gear,” he said.

“The enhanced currents and nutrient mixing in these parts of the ocean help create good conditions for cold-water coral mounds and for associated invertebrates, fish and mammals to thrive,” he noted.

Marine life should be protected from the wide variety of pollution sources, including ship noise, pile driving and from bottom trawling, as we now know,” he said.

Read The Irish Independent here

Published in Marine Science
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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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