Seismic surveys are a key activity for offshore oil and gas exploration. Surveys produce underwater sound that penetrates the seafloor. The rebounding sound creates detailed pictures of the rock layers below the seabed, which allows industry to locate oil and gas deposits.
The impacts of the noise produced by seismic surveys and the vessel operations they entail on animals in marine ecosystems are largely unknown. There are concerns it can immediately affect an animal’s hearing and physiology and might also harm behaviours such as feeding, breeding or escape responses. Over the long term (months to years), these impacts could accumulate, harming the health of both individuals and populations.
AIMS investigated the long and short-term impacts of noise produced by seismic surveys and vessel activity on pearl oysters and fishes as part of the North West Shoals to Shore Research Program.
Impacts on fish communities
This study examined the impact of a real-world, commercial seismic survey on fish communities of the NW Shelf. The work focused on documenting impacts from exposure to the noise produced by the array on the abundance and movement patterns of species that are key components of commercial catches in the region, such as red emperor (Lutjanus sebae).
Impacts on pearl oysters
Wild pearl oysters (Pinctada maxima) are the basis of the valuable cultured pearl industry in Western Australia. Approximately 10,000 pearl oysters have been exposed to the noise produced by a seismic array off the coast of Broome. Our study examined impacts of the survey on the growth and physiology of oysters and ultimately, on their ability to produce pearls.
Meekan, M. G., Speed, C. W., McCauley, R. D., Fisher, R., Birt, M. J. Currey-Randall, L. M., et al. (2021). A large-scale experiment finds no evidence that a seismic survey impacts a demersal fish fauna. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118:e2100869118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2100869118
McCauley, R.D.; Meekan, M.G.; Parsons, M.J.G. (2021) Acoustic Pressure, Particle Motion, and Induced Ground Motion Signals from a Commercial Seismic Survey Array and Potential Implications for Environmental Monitoring. J. Mar. Sci. Eng. 2021, 9, 571. https://doi.org/10.3390/jmse9060571
Speed CW, Meekan MG, Birt MJ, Parsons MJG, McLean D, Taylor BM, Thomas L, McCauley R, Semmens JM and Newman SJ (2022) Trophic Structure and Diet of Predatory Teleost Fishes in a Tropical Demersal Shelf Ecosystem. Front. Mar. Sci. 9:871611. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2022.871611