Marine Mammal Protection Against Human Noise Pollution Under the MMPA
Jackie Meyle is a student in Coastal and Ocean Master's program. She graduated from Drury University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Public Relations. She has developed interests in the environment and conservation through her education in the Coastal and Ocean Master's program.
Noise pollution from human activities has a negative impact on marine life. Marine animals rely on their own acoustics to navigate, hunt, reproduce, and communicate. Noise pollution disrupts these behaviors by interfering with their acoustics which can reduce communication ranges and masks sounds of interest.
In 1972, then-President Richard Nixon signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which was enacted on October 21, 1972. The MMPA was created in response to increasing concerns about the decline of marine mammal populations caused by human activities. The Act protects all marine mammals and makes it illegal to “take” marine mammals without a permit, meaning people cannot feed, hunt, harass, capture, or kill a marine mammal or part of a marine mammal.
Scientists have linked several incidences of marine mammal mass strandings to the increased noise caused by human activities. These strandings have an effect on marine populations, which goes against what the MMPA is trying to accomplish. Policy makers need to work to ensure that marine life is being protected under the MMPA from the noises caused by human activity in the ocean.
Today’s society is more aware of animal welfare issues due to the increase in media coverage. This rise of awareness has given way to new trends such as the “Blackfish effect”, coined from the severe backlash SeaWorld received from the public after the documentary Blackfish by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. This increase in awareness has caused people to propose stricter regulations on noise pollution so that marine populations can be protected. For example, in 2015 environmental activists protested Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.
But, this is a difficult thing to accomplish because there has also been an increase of oil and gas production. According to the Institute for Energy Research, global oil production growth increased in 2014 by over 2 million barrels per day, which was more than double than its 10-year average. This growth has given rise to more seismic surveys in order to find oil and gas reservoirs. Society places high values on these products. Oil and gas are important to society because they are a part of everyday life. Oil and gas are used to fuel cars, heating, and electricity. It is difficult to ask for stricter regulations when one of the major causes of noise pollution is essential to our everyday lives.
Global Shipping Routes from Kate Wheeling (Wheeling, 2014)
It is impossible to eliminate noise pollution in the ocean completely. However, there are opportunities to improve legislation by appealing to policy makers to ensure marine mammals are better protected from noise pollution. There are multiple alternatives that would reduce the amount of noise polluting our oceans.
One alternative would be to invest in new, quieter technologies that would have less of an impact on marine life. Marine vibroseis is an example of a new technology that has the potential to minimize the impacts of seismic surveys. This technology still needs to be tested to see if it produces data that is comparable to the current methods being used.
A second alternative is to have marine sanctuaries in critical habitats such as areas for migration or breeding. This would ensure that areas used for migration and breeding are not being affected by noise pollution and could reduce the amount of marine mammals affect by noise pollution.
A third alternative would be to require ramp-ups for all marine vessels. Ramping-up the airgun array sound levels is a technique that is used to let animals that are sensitive to sound to leave the area.
A fourth alternative would be to fund research on how to improve noise reduction methods (IDW). This would help lawmakers understand the best way to reduce the noise pollution in the ocean.