Shipping traffic is rapidly increasing along the Great Barrier Reef and in the coming years, as the resource industry ramps up the exploitation of coal seam gas, bauxite and LNG, the number of coal ships will be nothing short of outrageous.
Greenpeace has estimated one ship every hour of every day of every year for the next 20 years.
Noise from this traffic will be a major threat to all life on the Reef. Underwater noise causes temporary hearing loss and permanent hearing loss in whale populations. In a worst case scenario, noise can cause lungs and ear drums to explode, ensuring a terrible death for the whales.
Dr Christopher Clark, Director of Bioacoustic Research Program ,Cornell University says the cumulative impact of noise in the urbanised ocean environment seriously compromises whales. He uses this example.
“ Imagine a space ship is over your village and it’s sending explosions down to every 10 seconds, driving everybody crazy. The choice is you either leave or die.
“ The acoustic world is 10% of what it should be. The whales social network is destroyed, their world seriously compromised, their immune and reproductive systems impacted by stress created by noise.”
The use of sound for communication and detection in the marine environment is important for survival for marine animals. Marine animals depend on their hearing sensitivity to retain cohesion in groups, for echolocation (among marine mammals), to locate and capture food, for detection of predators, for sensing their physical and biological environment and for avoiding dangerous situations (including anthropogenic threats). There’s great variation in hearing sensitivity among animals due to evolutionary diversification of anatomical structures involved in hearing and selection pressures on the way different animals utilise sound.
Noise can disrupt communication between mothers and calves.
AUSTRALIA HAS NO LEGISLATION AT THE STATE OR FEDERAL LEVEL WHICH DEALS WITH NOISE IN THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT.