A New Regulatory and Environmental Hurdle: Noise in Marine Environments

The Newest Environmental Concern in the Marine World

With all the new regulations coming into effect at the beginning of 2015, the focus has been mainly on harmful emissions released into the air or sea that could harm both marine and human life. However, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment has been looking into noise level limits for machinery spaces, control rooms, work-ships, cargo blocks and accommodation spaces. It has been common knowledge for quite some time now that noise pollution can severely affect a variety of marine species. Additionally, they have found that noise reduction has significantly improved communication onboard ships among a variety of other benefits.

Noise regulation has been a debate to help protect marine life, crew and provide better communications in the work place for a few years now. Significant noise can affect not only onboard communications but communication ashore such as terminal operations, as the noise is often prevalent during tanker and barge discharges. In April of 2014, the Sub-committee on Ship Design and Equipment provided code for the reduction of underwater noise that develops from commercial shipping. Guidelines have been developed and issued for the reduction of underwater noise to address the negative impact it may have on marine life.

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How Does Noise Negatively Impact Marine Life?

In 2009, NOAA completed research which identified the short and long term negative consequences for marine life and marine mammals due to underwater noise pollution. That research was conducted along coastlines in the United States where commercial shipping, tug and barge traffic and offshore supply operations are continuously growing. The noises contributed by these shipping practices were found to affect the communication process of many marine species. Even more concerning, in various areas, the ocean noise level has doubled each decade over the last sixty years.

The ship traffic generates an acoustic “god” which confuses marine mammals and can separate them from their “pod”. When this happens, the solitary swimmers are normally unable to locate maters’ which ultimately threatens the survival of their species. For many whales and dolphins it is also difficult to acoustically locate their prey through noise which affects their survival rate. Additionally, it is common for these mammals to collide with ships which they are unable to identify as a danger until it’s too late.

Commercial fishing also seems to suffer due to heightened noise levels. After exposure to this noise, the catch rates of many commercial fishing species such as herring, cod, sea bass, sea bream or haddock has declined by 40 to 80 percent.

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What is the Next Step to Reduce Noise in Marine Environments?

The shipping industry has improved tremendously in regards to energy efficiency and emissions reductions, so the hope for noise regulations to be just as successful is high. Designers, shipbuilders and operators should be encouraged to look into new technologies and applications that can help these issues.

A new construction project completed by Amtech employed new technology that helped decrease noise levels onboard the ship. The trials were deemed so quiet and calm that the crew was continually looking through the port lights to make sure the ship was actually at sea! Noise reduction efforts were also noted at the Articulated Tug and Barge designs and construction. With Marflex of the Netherlands and Southern Electric Pumping Systems, variable frequency drive deepwell pumps have been included in chemical and tank barge designs to provide a new alternative. This was first introduced by Marflex in Korea. Now, they are working with U.S. shipyards and design houses to help make this a reliable and economic choice.



Kunkel, Robert “Is ‘Noise’ Your Next Regulatory and Environmental Hurdle?” Marine News. November 2014; 54-57. Print.

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