Marine Scotland - Marine Acoustics Placement

Lead Research Organisation: Scottish Association For Marine Science
Department Name: Scottish Association For Marine Science


With the ultimate aim to minimise the impacts of rising noise pollution from human activities on the marine environment and the species inhabiting these waters, this placement aims to examine opportunities for the development of a long-term, coordinated, passive acoustic monitoring programme in Scottish waters. Knowledge and skills regarding analysis and reporting of ambient noise levels from broadband data, analysis of acoustic recordings for marine mammal presence, and approaches suitable for measuring sound detection by fish and invertebrates, will be transferred to MSS, so this can be integrated into environmental impact assessments and conservation measures.
There has been growing concerns about the impacts of increasing human-made sounds on marine mammals, which rely on sounds for most aspects of their lives. Studies have demonstrated direct and indirect effects, including behavioural (e.g. area avoidance, changes in behavioural budgets, changes of vocalisations), physical (e.g. temporary and permanent hearing loss, stress) as well as lethal impacts related to anthropogenic sounds such as military sonar, seismic surveys, shipping and marine construction work.
Various EU and world-wide regulations have been transposed into national legislation to protect marine mammals in UK waters, and new coastal and offshore activities and developments are tested against these conservation commitments. This requires sufficient knowledge about the spatio-temporal presence and natural behaviour of populations and their population trends (and hence conservation status). Long-term passive acoustic monitoring has been used extensively to collect baseline data on marine mammal occurrence. Additionally, policymakers are beginning to develop management approaches to assess and mitigate noise risks to the marine environment through legislative frameworks, but are constraint by lack of data on current and historic noise levels. As such, information about typical and site-specific underwater noise levels is needed to explore how these might change in response to anthropogenic activities. This highlights the need for the establishment of large-scale and long-term acoustic monitoring programmes for underwater noise and marine mammal assessments.
Within Scotland, MSS is responsible for the licensing of coastal and marine developments and projects need to demonstrate that they do not have adverse impacts on local marine mammal populations. The development of several of the required impact assessment protocols have improved significantly in the last decade, in part due to increased site-specific cetacean data, and technological advances and modelling approaches. The framework for background noise assessments, however, is currently still in it's infancy, and the integration of particle motion to specifically assess noise impacts on fish and many invertebrates has not been fully developed and implemented yet. This data gap needs to be addressed if acoustic habitats are to be managed effectively for these species.
The work proposed will develop a future-proof strategy for a collaborative, coordinated passive acoustic monitoring network throughout Scottish waters. The project will identify suitable approaches for analysing and presenting background noise statistics and trends, in line with EU requirements. Acoustic data collected from existing Scottish monitoring projects will be used to train MSS staff in the appropriate analyses to establish presence of vocalising marine mammals and obtain and present ambient noise level statistics. The latter will provide baseline measurements against which to measure future noise pollution trends, and will offer evidence to assess the efficacy of management measures.


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Description The UK is committed to monitoring and assessing levels of ambient underwater noise under Descriptor 11 (Underwater Noise) of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Work achieved under the NERC-funded Innovation Placement includes the development of a protocol for Scottish ambient noise monitoring in relation to MSFD reporting, taking into account national compatibility, as well as highlighting potential for added value to the current acoustic monitoring programme. Specified ambient noise analysis was subsequently applied to acoustic data collected at 10 monitoring sites off eastern Scotland through the ECOMMAS array during 2013-2018. Obtained results provide an increased understanding of the noise conditions experienced by marine life. Part of these data were also analysed for the presence of minke whale vocalisations, and inferences made on seasonal and diel occurrence of this protected species.
Exploitation Route The work can underpin/verify spatial models of noise off eastern Scotland, and contribute to assessments of impacts of underwater noise to marine life, quantification of soundscape and the spatio-temporal aspects of particular noise sources.

As these data provided various challenges that are not specifically addressed in the EU MSFD recommendations/guidelines, ongoing work will focus on methodological analysis development/assessment. This could subsequently serve as a starting point for further discussions on implementations of required monitoring across the EU.

For those that may wish to work with these data, you are encouraged to contacts Marine Scotland Science in the first instance.
Sectors Environment

Description Acoustic analysis (Underwater ambient noise)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Through the development of SOPs and training to MSS staff, Marine Scottland Science has now in-house capability for underwater ambient noise analysis to be applied to data collected via the ECOMMAS array, as well as to those collected via other acoustic monotoring programmes MSS is involved in (i.e. COMPASS, JOMOPANS, JONAS). The processing of acoustic data and subsequent reporting on noise levels is a legislative requirement under Descriptor 11 of the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Title ECOMMAS ambient noise 
Description Ambient noise outputs for the 10 ECOMMAS monitoring locations off eastern Scotland on a 1-second resolutions for 1/3 octave bands up to 48 kHz for the years 2013-2018. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The databases will: 1) provide the underlying data for MSFD Descriptor 11 reporting on Continuous ambient noise present on the east coast of Scotland 2) provide underlying data useful for verification of acoustic propagation models 3) may be used by various industries (e.g. Marine renewables, Oil & Gas) where noise is considered in the Environmentla Impact Assessment, whereby ECOMMAS noise measurements can serve as complementary data to bring local assessment in a extended spatial & temporal context 
Description Cefas 
Organisation Centre For Environment, Fisheries And Aquaculture Science
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I visited Cefas to learn and modify a particular acoustic analysis tool (PAMGyuide), and discuss the UK-wide strategy for ambient noise monitoring in line with MSFD reporting, so that obtainined knowledge could be implemented in the development of the Scottish SOPs for acoustic data analysis. Regular contact with Cefas was maintained throughout the placement mainly concerning protocol development and dissemination (interpretation on UK level of analysis results, conference abstracts/presentations, and regarding a paper that is still at an early stage). Collaborations between SAMS/MSS/Cefas will continue, with ongoing EU-funded research, as well as a UKRI grant application in progress.
Collaborator Contribution Cefas hosted me during my visit and trained me in the usage of PAMGuide, which was developed by Cefas staff. The Cefas partner is also one of the main UK representatives on noise at various international workgroups. Input from Cefas was therefore very important to streamline Scottish ambient noise work with the most up-to-date national and international requirements and to allign Scottish work with procedures applied in the rest of the UK.
Impact - Scottish SOPs for ambient noise monitoring - Data 2013-2018 provided by MSS was analysed using PAMGuide and we are collectively (MSS, Cefas and SAMS) in the process of disseminating results. - Results will be provided to the EU in 2024 as part of the 6-yearly MSFD reporting.
Start Year 2018
Description Marine Scotland Science 
Organisation Marine Scotland Science (MSS)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The good working relationship with MSS has led to continued collaboration on ambient noise monitoring (including publications on the work carried out under the placement scheme) and identified potential for further processing of data for the acoustic presence of marine mammals. My contributions in the award included the required skills and acoustic analyis experience, as well as having dedicated time to process the supplied data (as the award is an Innovation Placement). I developed the acoustic analyses protocols, and trained MSS traff on these, so that MSS now has continued in-house capability to report on EU MSFD Descriptor 11.2.1 Ambient noise. Nevertheless, acoustic data analysis is a ime-consuming process and the opportunity for continued collaboration on this, and other research related to these data, is considered beneficial.
Collaborator Contribution The Placement was hosted by MSS, and MSS provided data 2013-2018 for MSFD Ambient noise assessments for the placement. Part of these data were also analysed for the presence of minke whale vocalisations. Continued collaboration between SAMS/MSS/Cefas will occur, with ongoing EU-funded research, as well as a UKRI grant application in progress.
Impact - Scottish Standards Operating Procedures for ambient noise monitoring with regards to EU MSFD reporting (also compatible with UK-wide protocols) - Paper on the presence of minke whales off eastern Scotland - MSS staff trained to undertake ambient noise analysis - Data 2013-2018 provided by MSS was analysed, and collectively, the project partners (MSS, Cefas and SAMS) are in the process of disseminating results. - Results will be provided to the EU in 2024 as part of the 6-yearly MSFD reporting
Start Year 2018
Description Attending Underwater Sound Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Underwater Sound Forum (USF) is one of the working groups of the UK Government's Marine Science Co-ordination Committee (MSCC). Membership of the Forum contains representatives from key stakeholders within the UK marine and maritime community (Government, academic, NGO and industry) with an interest in how the UK manages the issue of underwater sound in the science, technology, policy and legal areas.
While the focus of the USF is UK-centric, the Forum recognises that the problem of underwater sound and its impact on the marine environment is international in its regulation and can be global in its impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description BBC Radio Scotland - Newsdrive 6-3-2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview for BBC Radio Scotland's Newsdrive Show following the press release about the published minke whale paper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Hosting Workplace students 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Introduction of high school pupils into marine mammal research, including pressures on this species and work undertaken to aid their conservation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description ScotMER Marine Mammal Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited talk at the Scottish Marine Energy Research (ScotMER) Marine Mammal Symposium (aiming to discuss research, sustainable development of offshore renewables and impacts on marine mammals), presenting ambient noise analysis results.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019