Thesis: Understanding the impacts of vessel traffic noise on wildlife in marine protected areas to inform management and conservation.
The oceans are naturally noisy, and sound is a vital sensory input for marine life in the ocean. However, anthropogenic noise has been increasing in the ocean, both in the volume and type of noise, likely impacting marine wildlife across all trophic levels. The main contributor to increases in ambient background ocean noise is the substantial number of vessels utilising the ocean for shipping commercial goods, fishing, recreation, and other purposes.
Noise from vessels can affect wildlife in marine protected areas (MPAs), given the widespread transmission of sound throughout the ocean. MPAs are recognized as an important tool to protect marine biodiversity, but rarely exclude vessel traffic. Only the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Area Category I restricts vessel access to MPAs, amounting to only 0.9% of oceans globally. This may reduce the ability of MPAs to protect marine biodiversity and increase population resilience.
The aim of my research is to evaluate the degree to which vessel traffic affects wildlife within MPAs and in areas of known high vessel traffic outside of MPAs. Additionally, I will model the cumulative noise from large-scale vessels within Australia’s EEZ to determine if areas of high noise occur within MPAs. To answer these key questions, I will use satellite automatic identification systems (AIS) and satellite images to collect information about vessel location through space and time, and data from Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS) to derive information on wildlife characteristics such as abundance, biomass and diversity. The outcomes of my research will inform policy recommendations and guidelines on the management of vessel traffic within Australia’s MPAs, with wider implications for management of MPAs globally.
Why my research is important
This project aims to enhance our understanding of the numbers of vessels currently using the ocean, specifically in MPAs, the amount of noise they are estimated to create, and the likely impacts on wildlife. The outcomes of this research will help to assess whether commercial and recreational vessels impact wildlife and whether there should be policies and management in place to reduce the potential impacts.