The future of ocean noise management - advances, gaps, priorities

Ocean underwater noise was recognized as important anthropogenic pressure around the turn of the century. Concern was initially driven by strandings of cetaceans after use of military sonar, the uncertainty about the mechanism causing these incidents and whether there was potential for large-scale impact added to this concern.Military organisations, worried about implications for their ability to use essential sonar systems, reacted by initiating research on the effects of sound on the marine environment- legislators soon followed, and the European Marine Strategy Directive that came into force in 2008 now requires EU member states to ensure that deleterious effects of man-made noise on the ecosystem are prevented- both from loud impulsive noise sources and by the increase of low frequency ambient noise levels.The requirement to think at ecosystem scale has prompted regulators to broaden the scale of underwater noise impact assessments- in the EU required by the Marine Strategy, but also the approach taken in the US Ocean Noise Strategy. In future broader scale assessments, regulators aim to determine whether the scale of sound generating activities and anthropogenic sound levels requires further action at a larger scale/or in a wider region.Where we still struggle to understand and quantify the impact of ambient noise, the knowledge about effects of loud impulsive noise sources has increased significantly over the last years. Research initially focussed on physiological effects in marine organisms, but behavioural disturbance leading to habitat loss, which may happen at low levels of exposure and thus at large scale, may be more significant for ecosystems. Combining scientific expertise is needed to quantify the scale of habitat loss and understand the effect of this (often temporary) habitat loss on the ecosystem, to identify the zones where action is needed to protect ocean values.

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