Pilot Projects Identified to Reduce Noise for Marine Mammals

The focus of the pilot projects is to investigate and evaluate noise reduction effectiveness in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo: UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, LISTEN GoMex Team)

Whales and dolphins (cetaceans) living in the Gulf of Mexico are often exposed to noise from vessel operations, geophysical surveys, and other human activities that can disrupt natural behaviors and cause direct physical harm. The Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group selected the Reduce Impacts of Anthropogenic Noise on Cetaceans project to help address this issue. The project aims to identify methods to reduce human-induced noise levels, and seeks partnerships to voluntarily test and implement promising methods.  

NOAA is leading the project with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In addition to aligning with the Open Ocean Area restoration goals to reduce key stressors, this project complements other efforts such as the NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy and the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center’s Passive Acoustic Ecology Program.  

Analysis Complete  

Over the past two years, a team of biologists, acousticians, computer simulation experts, and noise control engineers—coordinated through the California Ocean Alliance—analyzed the risk associated with overlapping sources of human-caused noise and cetacean distribution in the Gulf of Mexico. This interdisciplinary team of scientists from both academia and industry, initiated outreach efforts to regional stakeholders including:  

  • Vessel owners, vessel operators, and naval architects and engineers  
  • Companies involved in geological and geophysical surveying and technology development
  • Federal agencies  
  • Industry trade organizations    

For detailed information about the data analysis, modeling, stakeholder engagement, and potential pilot projects please see the Reducing Impacts of Anthropogenic Noise to Cetaceans in the Gulf of Mexico: Collaborating with Industry on Noise Reduction Pilot Projects (PDF, 142 pages) report.  

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Pilot Projects and Next Steps  

The project is moving to its next phase which will focus on refining the potential strategies and technologies to reduce noise exposure in the Gulf of Mexico, and in collaboration with industry partners, implement and evaluate pilot projects. The Open Ocean Trustees have completed reviews of the pilot projects (PDF, 11 pages) to ensure they are consistent with the evaluation and environmental compliance provided for the project in the Final Open Ocean Restoration Plan 2 and Environmental Assessment (PDF, 493 pages). 

As the project team refines the pilot activities, they will consider the supporting analyses, continued input from industries and agencies working in the Gulf of Mexico, and willingness of partners to voluntarily participate. The focus of the pilot projects is to investigate and evaluate noise reduction effectiveness in the Gulf of Mexico in three areas:  

  • Changes in seismic survey operations, such as use of alternate technologies  
  • Changes in vessel design, such as engines and propellers  
  • Changes in vessel operations, such as speed reduction or alternate routing  

The pilot projects are expected to take place from 2024-2026.

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