Marine invertebrates such as clams, oysters and worms are keystone species that play a critical role in ocean ecosystems. In a new study led by the University of Exeter, an international team of researchers has investigated the impact of noise pollution on marine invertebrates.
The experts reviewed hundreds of relevant studies. They concluded that noise from human activities is damaging marine invertebrates in many different ways, and this damage can be fatal.
“Many people are surprised to discover that invertebrates can even perceive sounds, but in fact sound is fundamental to their survival. Light doesn’t travel very well in water but sound does, and invertebrates use sound in a variety of ways,” explained study first author Dr. Marta Solé from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech (UPC).
“Human activities – especially shipping – are changing the ocean soundscape rapidly, and our study brings together the latest evidence on the impacts of this.”
The study revealed that noise from human activities such as shipping and drilling can harm marine invertebrates on a cellular level. Ocean noise is also impacting entire marine ecosystems by changing the health and behavior of predators and prey in complex food webs, explained the researchers.
Some of the changes in behavior that have been documented include a “startle” reaction in response to loud sounds. For example, ship noise has been found to limit the camouflage ability of shore crabs.
The experts also reviewed evidence that ocean noise can delay hatching and egg development in crustaceans, which significantly increases death rates among larvae.
Furthermore, research has shown that low-frequency sounds can cause injuries and even death. Numerous studies have confirmed that blue crabs are often killed as a direct result of underwater explosions.
“Our study underlines that these animals exist in a rich underwater soundscape,” said Dr. Sophie Nedelec from the University of Exeter. “We urgently need to know more about the impacts of noise pollution on these animals and ecosystems.”
“Considering that noise can affect invertebrates from cellular to ecosystems level, we need to bring together interdisciplinary expertise to embrace a holistic vision of the problem.”
“Given the many pressures being caused by humans – including from climate change and fisheries – we must do everything we can to limit underwater noise.”
The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
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