A new study of the impact of noise on the behaviour of fish and crustaceans is to inform the development of offshore wind farms around the UK.
The innovative new University of Hull research project uses underwater television, high frequency sonar and playback system to replicate and monitor the effect of any artificial noise in the sea, such as ships, concrete piling strokes or offshore wind turbines.
‘Marine Noise – The Effect of Underwater Noise in Fish and Crustaceans’ Behavioural Responses in the Field’ is being carried out by the University’s Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies (IECS) as part of the SoundWave consortium. This also involves the University of Newcastle and two private companies, Subacoustech Ltd and Loughine Ltd.
The findings of the Defra-funded project have business and commercial significance in a number of sectors including port development, offshore wind and marine energy, offshore oil and gas, and the fishing industry.
Dr Rafael Perez-Dominguez said that the research was urgently required to inform industry and guide regulatory and consenting agencies to act from a knowledge-based stand point upon planning applications.
“The results of the project will lead to precise valuations of the real impact of underwater noise on marine ecosystems during environmental impact assessments exercises,” he said.
Sea trials are due to start in the coming months on the new University of Newcastle research vessel, The Princess Royal, off the Northumberland coast near Blythe. The equipment has already been trialled in enclosed conditions at the marine reserve in Lough Hyne, County Cork, Ireland.
The specially developed experimental equipment will use a powerful underwater loudspeaker system, one of the world’s largest non-military sound systems available.
“Whether marine fish or crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters are affected by human underwater noise is open to debate and requires scientific investigation of which there has been very little,” said Dr Perez-Dominguez.
“Fish use sounds to look at their environment. Light, even in shallow environments, only travels a short distance. Comparatively, sound travels longer distances, and fish know how to use it to find prey and avoid predators. Man-made noise may compromise these abilities.”
The research team believe that the programme should generate the experimental data necessary to forecast direct effects on a number of important fish species and crustaceans including the edible crab and the European lobster.
Once the project is completed in 2013, the data will be passed to Defra and the information will be freely and publicly available through research papers and reports.
Previously, the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies has carried out marine environmental surveys for the proposed development by Norfolk Offshore Wind of a 30-turbine offshore wind turbine site off Cromer, and surveys for two proposed wind farm sites adjacent to the Dutch coast.
This line of research has recently included the baseline ecological works on the Firth of Forth Zone of the UK’s Round 3 offshore wind farm development programme.
Offshore WIND staff, November 29, 2011; Image: britishcouncil