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Ecosystem mechanisms of noise impact on marine fauna

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ECOSOUND (Ecosystem mechanisms of noise impact on marine fauna)

Reporting period: 2015-05-10 to 2017-05-09

Defining a Good Environmental Status for ocean noise within the European Marine Framework Strategy is challenged by our limited knowledge about noise effects on marine fauna. While ambient sound can provide useful cues for marine fauna, animals may also respond negatively to noise exposure and noise can affect fauna via behavioural, physiological, cellular and genetic mechanisms. At the high predator level, there are numerous studies assessing reactions of marine mammals to underwater noise. These studies have reported reactions from apparently null to subtle behavioural changes, physiological and behavioural indicators of stress, and even death (directly due to exposure to explosions, or as a secondary effect of behavioural disturbance). Mass mortalities have been related to the use of intense naval sonar and the most affected species are deep-diving beaked whales (family Ziphiidae). Efforts to understand the causes of the higher vulnerability to sound of beaked whales require an inter-specific comparative approach to isolate the factors in their behaviour and eco-physiology with more relevance for the vulnerability of beaked whales. Underwater noise affects other fauna in addition to marine mammals and for this reason it is important to apply an ecosystem-management perspective to the assessment and regulation of underwater noise.

Currently, marine acoustic pollution is poorly regulated in Europe, despite growing evidence of a variety of impacts of noise on marine fauna. Initiatives to assess and regulate marine noise are arising from countries worlwide and, within EU, by the European Government and other international bodies such as OSPAR, ACCOBAMS and ASCOBAMS, all of which are suffering from the scarcity of scientific data upon which to base their decisions.

Based on the above, the objectives of ECOSOUND were:
i) To contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms of noise effects in the oceans by performing research on marine fauna from invertebrates to top-predators.
ii) To transfer the knowledge generated during the project to competent authorities and other interested stakeholders, including the public, in order to create awareness and provide scientific basis for management decisions to regulate underwater noise, classified as a pollutant of emergent concern.
iii) In addition to research objectives of ECOSOUND, this project is a Marie Slodowska Curie individual fellowship project. As such, one of its goals is to facilitate the awarded MSC fellow to attain a stable position in a European research entity, strengthening the network of excellent scientists in Europe.
The Marie Slodowska Curie project ECOSOUND (May 2015-May 2017, Horizon 2020) targeted issues of underwater noise impacts on marine fauna, from invertebrates to marine mammals. The project included experimental work at sea and in the laboratory, analysis of a large dataset of biologging data of pilot and beaked whales and systematic literature reviews. Also, in synergy to the research activities planned initially in ECOSOUND, the fellow led six competitive research projects as PI. The results of the research were reported in 17 contributions to 8 international conferences and published in 9 peer-reviewed articles and 3 conference proceedings and book chapters. Also, the research based or contributed to two PhD and 7 MSc thesis supervised by the ECOSOUND fellow. Knowledge generated during the project was transferred to the governments of UK, New Zealand and Spain and to the UN family of agreements Convention of Migratory Species-ACCOBAMS-ASCOBANS, as well as to the International Whaling Commission and the International Maritime Organization, among other stakeholders. Outreach was achieved in the form of the participation of the fellow in three documentaries (two with large international divulgation by SKY channel and National Geographic Wild/ARTE) and numerous contributions to web-based and printed-press, radio and tv media. The fellow culminated ECOSOUND with the award of a long-term research and teaching position at the University of La Laguna, Canary Islands, Spain, where she will continue working on research subjects related to ECOSOUND and with international collaborators gained during this project.
ECOSOUND has largely contributed to the recognition of the fellow as an expert on marine mammal ecology and underwater bioacoustics, particularly on noise effects on marine fauna. This has made possible her contribution to expert panels acting as advisors to national and international bodies competent to develop conservation law. By targeting studies of noise-effects in species at the low and top ends of the marine trophic webs, the researcher is effectively advancing our understanding on noise-effects at an ecosystem level. This is one of the end-goals of her career. This goal is relevant for the European Marine Framework Strategy, indicator 11 of Good Environmental Status: underwater noise/energy. Defining thresholds of impact for indicator 11 is challenging by the current scarcity of knowledge about the effects of noise on marine fauna and the marine ecosystem. Thus, the fellow´s research in ECOSOUND has directly contributed to answer international gaps of knowledge.
The work of ECOSOUND has contributed to the recognition by national and international bodies that: i) noise can affect marine fauna from invertebrates to marine mammals, birds and reptiles; ii) mitigation measures are practical and should be implemented by nations, while working for standardization of measures across borders; iii) non-hearing physiological effects of noise are to be considered in regulations and guidelines for mitigation. While these issues are well known by the scientific community, they are still far from being implemented properly in management and conservation law both within and outside Europe. For example, the recently published Convention of Migratory Species baseline document on underwater noise only included the effects of noise on marine invertebrates because the fellow of ECOSOUND proposed and written this section. Similarly, the work of the fellow in national and international expert groups has contributed to the integration of the above information by competent bodies.
In addition to the work on noise effects, the fellow has advanced pure science in a number of issues, such as: i) population studies of cetaceans (dolphins, beaked whales and humpback whales) using mark-recapture and distance sampling methods based on photoID, and visual and acoustic detections. These have provided the first estimates of abundance of Cuvier´s and Blainville´s beaked whales, and of rough-toothed dolphins, in the NE Atlantic using photoID data and acoustic data. ii) biologging science: the fellow has used tag data to uncover the relation of the social cohesion of beaked whales while diving serves as an anti-predatory behaviour for beaked whales, with implications for the vulnerability of these species to sonar (the most accepted scientific explanation to the mortalities of beaked whales in relation to sonar is that beaked whales die as a result of behavioural responses to sonar as if sonar was interpreted as a predator cue by beaked whales) (Aguilar de Soto et al. submitted). Also, the fellow has supervised PhD students advancing the field of pilot whales communication (Marrero et al. 2016) and sperm whale foraging behaviour and population abundance (Fais et al. 2016a,b).
PhD of J. Marrero on pilot whale communication, supervised by ECOSOUND fellow
MSc supervised within ECOSOUND, reporting first mark recapture study of beaked whales NE Atlantic
"Interview of SKY to ECOSOUND fellow for documentary ""A plastic whale"""
Paper on mitigation of impact of naval sonar on beaked whales
Study of river dolphins in Brazil with Gabriel Melo (Uni Belem) and Mark Johnson (Uni St Andrews)
Meetings of the Working Group on Cetacean Ship Strike Prevention convened by fellow of ECOSOUND
First underwater images of True´s beaked whales reported in paper by ECOSOUND fellow and coauthors
Workshop convened by ECOSOUND fellow on the Marine Strategu Framework Directive (Noise Descriptor)
"Logo of documentary ""A plastic whale"" of SKY including research of ECOSOUND"
Convention of Migratory Species report on noise guidelines
Book including chapter by ECOSOUND fellow on physiological effects of noise on marine fauna
Class on ship strike prevention (first time the issue is included in academic cv marineers in Spain)
Talk at the Sea Mammal Conference on beaked whale detectability
Cuvier´s beaked whale. Photo by N. Aguilar with permit of Spanish Ministry