Status: No Status or Assessment Trend

(Baxter et al, 2011)

Status of noise: Stable since 2012

(United Kingdom Marine Monitoring & Assessment Strategy, n.d.a)

Underwater noise can be natural, ambient noise, or noise caused by human activities. Increasing underwater noise in the marine environment from unnatural sources is a stressor to marine life and species which have evolved to manage natural underwater noise, but are poorly equipped for the increasing man-made noise in the oceans. Noise can affect marine organisms in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, masking communication, causing issues with finding prey, confusing animals, and damaging hearing.

As technology advances with innovations such as offshore renewable energy installations, construction, increasing uses for commercial shipping, ferries, defence, and recreational activities such as jet-skiing and boating, and other uses, underwater noise has significantly increased.

Underwater anthropogenic (human pollution) noise can be ‘impulsive’ (noise with sudden onset) or ‘continuous’ (steady uninterrupted noise) depending on the source of the sound. Impulsive noises can include, construction, acoustic deterrent devices, explosions or seismic surveys, whereas continuous noise is often engine noise from shipping.

Sources vary in how much they believe underwater noise to have increased over recent decades, with one 2004 paper suggesting they it was at least 10 times that of a few decades ago (Hildebrand, 2004). It is likely that underwater noise is likely to have increased significantly since this paper was published.

The Clear Seas website provides audio clips of natural and anthropogenic sounds to highlight the noise of some activities present in the marine environment. This website also provides an audio clip of when a ship passes a pod of orcas. Although orcas are not present in the Solway Firth this clip provides an audio reference for readers understand interference through anthropogenic noise in the marine environment.

Image; Onshore wind turbine shadow, Siddick. © Solway Firth Partnership


Legislation and regulation of underwater noise


The Marine Strategy Framework Directive & the Marine Noise Registry

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) was adopted in 2008, and seeks to provide more effective marine environment protection by requiring all member states to reach ‘Good Environmental Status‘ (GEnvS) in their seas by 2020. This involves a circular process which began with the UK Initial Assessment for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in 2012, followed by the Marine Strategy Part Two: UK Marine Monitoring Programmes in 2014, and the Marine Strategy Part Three: UK programme of measures in 2015 and followed by implementation. This is a circular three-stage process, beginning a new 6 year process in 2018, an updated Part 1 Assessment was published in 2019. In terms of reaching GEnvS there are 11 ‘descriptors’ to help each member state interpret GEnvS and illustrate what a marine environment which has GEnvS looks like. The 11th descriptor relates to underwater noise, and preventing introduced noise reaching levels which would negatively affect the marine environment. Council Decision 2017/848 lays out the criteria and methodological standards on GEnvS of marine waters and specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment), and therefore underwater noise assessment, monitoring and management measures required to reach GEnvS. These can be explored in the documents listed above, but one of the major outcomes has been the creation of the Marine Noise Registry, discussed below, which also feeds information to an OSPAR register for assessment on an OSPAR region scale. An OSPAR map is available displaying 2015 impulsive noise data, which shows that this type of noise was concentrated around the North East and North West of Scotland significantly more than other areas of the UK. The Solway had between zero and less than one total pulse block days according to this data. OSPAR also adopted an ‘Ambient Noise Monitoring Strategy‘ with the pilot region of the North Sea. The UK is participating in the ‘Joint Monitoring Programme for Ambient Noise in the North Sea‘ EU-funded project to help develop this monitoring programme.

The Marine Noise Registry, managed by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) collects data on impulsive underwater noise which can be used in research to determine trends and cumulative impacts and how noise could impede reaching GEnvS. The creation of this registry fulfilled target 1 from the Marine Strategy part Two;

“Target 1: To establish a ‘noise registry’ to record, assess, and manage the distribution and timing of anthropogenic sound sources measured over the frequency band 10 Hz to 10 kHz, exceeding the energy source level 186 dB re 1 μPa² m² s; or the zero to peak source level of 224 dB re 1 μPa² m² over the entire UK hydrocarbon licence block area” (United Kingdom Marine Monitoring & Assessment Strategy (n.d.b).

In other words, to record human activities which produce loud, low to medium frequency impulsive noise in the seas around the UK.

The Marine Noise Registry is now up and running with “the initial purpose of monitoring man-made impulsive noise is to quantify the pressure on the environment by making available an overview of relevant impulsive sound sources, throughout the year. This in turn will aid in the definition of a baseline level for impulsive noise in UK waters” (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, n.d.).

The other target outlined in Part Two of the marine strategy was to monitor ambient/ continuous underwater noise by setting up a noise monitoring network. Among the programmes of measures which have been established since there have been 12 monitoring underwater recorders moored for recording ambient, and impulsive, underwater noise (see discussion of Merchant et al 2016 below). However, “there are presently no threshold values agreed at UK level to determine the risk of adverse ecological impact” (United Kingdom Marine Monitoring & Assessment Strategy, n.d.b).

There are a number of documents available to provide guidelines and advice on minimising risk of injury from impulsive noise generating activities. These include the JNCC guidelines and International Maritime Organisation non-mandatory guidelines (the JNCC guidelines or geophysical surveys, impact piling and explosive use in the marine environment are often set as a licence condition).

Information related to the UK progress towards GEnvS can be explored using the ‘Marine Online Assessment Tool‘.

According to the ‘Marine Online Assessment Tool‘ in relation to underwater noise, this tool suggests that the extent to which GEnvS has been reached in relation to underwater noise is ‘uncertain’, as was reported in the 2019 Marine Strategy Part One update. The Marine Online Assessment Tool considers GEnvS as ‘partially achieved’ with the situation being classed as ‘stable’ since the 2012 assessment. As discussed elsewhere in this section, the knowledge and understanding of underwater noise has been increasing in recent years, a sentiment echoed in the ‘Marine Online Assessment Tool‘ with research and monitoring tools established since 2012 improving the understanding of noise impacts in the marine environment.


UK Legislation and Regulation

Some marine activities require licences. Marine licensing in Scotland and England is detailed in part 4 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and part 4 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA) respectively. The licences are issued by a range of bodies, often Marine Scotland (MS) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). A full list of activities licensable by MS is available here and the list of 7 activity categories which may require a licence from the MMO are available here. Part of the licensing stage for new marine activities involves the input of estimated locations and dates for noise generating activities to the Marine Noise Registry.

When applying for a marine licence, information is submitted in a ‘Proposed Activity Form‘ in the register and licence applications are not accepted until this information has been submitted to the Marine Noise Registry. Once the activity has been completed a ‘Close-out Report‘ is submitted to the Marine Noise Registry to provide the location and date for actual noise which occurred during the activity. Licences which are granted for noise generating activities may include conditions to mitigate the noise caused in order to reduce impacts.

Marine activities which generate noise but do not require licences are asked to voluntarily submit information through the voluntary reporting scheme (for example the Ministry of Defence is voluntarily cooperating with the register for military activities as operationally appropriate).

The Marine Noise Registry relies on the required data submission through marine licensing requirements, and voluntary data submission. It includes data from 2015 onwards and there are annual publications outputs from the registry.


Image; Grey seal pup. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership


Issues related to underwater noise

Underwater noise can have a variety of effects on marine life which depend on;

  • Whether the noise is made from particle motion or acoustic pressure (see Weilgart, 2018)
  • Noise Type – (impulsive noise, or continuous noise – see next page)
  • Volume & Range of noise (noise propagates/travels over longer distances than in air)
  • Other existing underwater noise (natural and anthropogenic)
  • Surrounding conditions (depth, seabed bathymetry)
  • Long or short term exposure to the noise (length of time the noise occurs for)
  • Species specific features
    • Sensitivity of species hearing
    • Reliance on sound/hearing
    • Age

The full range of impacts is not well known at present. In extreme instances underwater noise can cause the death of marine species.

Fish and Invertebrates

Although underwater noise research has, in the past, been generally focussed more on the impacts of individual marine mammals there is research available for the effects of underwater noise on fish and invertebrates. There was a report published in 2018 which reviewed a total of 115 primary studies on fish (covering 66 species) and invertebrates (covering 36 species). It is worth noting that many of these species included in the 115 studies will not present in the Solway Firth, and these studies are based all over the World. There are a vast array of impacts on fish and invertebrates from noise including; developmental issues (malformations, immature mortality, etc), high mortality of zooplankton, anatomical issues (hearing loss which can worsen after the noise has ceased or be ‘temporary’ which can last months, internal injuries, etc), stress related impacts (distress, reduced reproductive rates leading to lower levels of recruitment and population reductions, etc), behavioural impacts (communication issues, uncoordinated schooling, aggression, etc) (Weilgart, 2018). Furthermore, some “ecological services performed by invertebrates such as water filtration, mixing sediment layers, and bioirrigation, which are key to nutrient cycling on the seabed, were negatively affected by noise“(Weilgart, 2018).

Marine Mammals

As already mentioned, there are variables in underwater noise which can affect the impacts on marine species, how significant the impacts are, and whether they are short term or long term. Features of the specific mammal will affect alter how they are impacted by underwater noise, such as the mammals age, species (cetaceans in particular are sensitive to noise exposure), and location. There is the potential that each individual mammal will react and be affected uniquely.

Marine mammals rely on noise for location, protection, communication, and understanding their surroundings. Underwater noise can therefore impede marine mammal survival. Noise can cause stressphysical harm and behavioural issues, a reduction in hearing sensitivity, confusion and issues with communication between marine mammals by masking or interference.


Everything is interconnected in the marine environment, and so there will be knock-on impacts from underwater noise. In addition to issues with spatial constraints for some noise generating activities such as shipping lanes, construction activities or ministry of defence areas taking up space in the marine area, they effect the environment in the area around them within range of their noise.

Reduced enjoyment of the area could be an issue due to noise affecting local recreational activities such as bird or whale watching, fishing, recreational boating or coastal walks. These activities are often enjoyed for peace and quiet in addition to the activity itself. Noise can affect the fishing industry by driving fish out of the area with some catches from commercial fisheries reducing by 80% as a result of fish leaving the area due to noise (Weilgart, 2018).  Overall, “once the population biology and ecology are impacted, it is clear fisheries and even food security for humans are also affected” (Weilgart, 2018).

Image; A moving boat on the Solway. © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant


Underwater noise in the UK

Each type of noise, impulsive and continuous, can cause significant impacts. Impulsive acute noise can be loud and shocking as it is of a shorter term nature, whereas continuous noise results in long term chronic exposure and permanent disturbance. Both types of noise have increased since the industrial revolution.

Continuous noise

Data gathering has been increasing over recent years in relation to underwater noise, including ambient noise. As with many marine related topics, awareness, interest, and research in pressures and impacts of activities has been increasing. Uses and competition for space in the marine environment all have the potential of increased underwater noise.

A UK-wide research partnership into ambient noise began in 2015, with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) leading on the creation of a UK monitoring network for ambient noise. In 2016 this partnership created an analysis of underwater noise levels in UK coastal waters (anthropogenic and natural noise). This research was “the first nationally coordinated effort to characterise underwater noise levels, providing baseline measurements for UK waters” (Merchant et al, 2016), with study monitoring sites being selected in 12 locations around the coast of Great Britain. There were significant findings in this work such as; “the possibility of onshore noise sources contributing to coastal underwater soundscapes“, and also that throughout monitored sites “noise exposure varied considerably, with little anthropogenic influence at the Celtic Sea site, to several North Sea sites with persistent vessel noise”(Merchant et al, 2016). The UK’s noise monitoring network is being developed on the basis of the baseline findings of this research.

Only one of the monitoring sites was located on the west coast of Great Britain in the Celtic Sea, in the south of England near St Ives. The vast majority of the monitoring sites (10 out of 12 sites) were placed in the North Sea around the north-east coast of Scotland. Therefore, although useful for overall UK data, the data was recorded far from the Solway Firth and cannot account for the Firth’s unique level of activity and resulting underwater noise specifically.


Impulsive noise

In terms of impulsive noise, physical impacts are far better understood than behavioural impacts. Behavioural impacts could also occur on a population level and are variable depending on the context in which the noise is being produced.

In the ‘Marine Online Assessment Tool‘ from the United Kingdom Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy, there is information on impulsive noise which has been gathered through the Marine Noise Registry, and can illustrate where in UK waters is noisier and where is quieter. Provided in blocks using the UK Oil and Gas licensing grid, data for ‘total pulse block days’ illustrates the duration of impulse noise in the 2015 calendar year. This map is available here, and shows less than 1 pulse block day of impulsive underwater noise in the Solway. It is worth pointing out that this does not reflect the impulse noise experienced in the firth in other years, and also that the Marine Noise Registry does not record all underwater impulse noise (just that from licensed activities, and voluntarily submitted). However, it does help illustrate that the Solway may, generally, have a low level of impulsive noise compared to other marine areas of the UK, such as the North Sea.

Additional data is available through the National Marine Plan Interactive, which provides two Scotland specific data layers related to underwater noise. Data layer; Distribution of noise activity type per Block for 2015-2017 (time-aware) shows that in 2017 in the Scottish Solway there was impulsive noise generating activity related to Ministry of Defence activities around the Mull of Galloway and west of the Rhins of Galloway. The other underwater noise related data layer; Distribution of impulsive noise events, Total Pulse Block Days (PBD) for 2015-2017 (time-aware), shows that this was 1 or 2 total pulse block days, depending on the block explored. These layers are both populated with data extracted from the Marine Noise Registry.


Risk Mitigation

Mitigation of the risks associated with underwater noise is difficult due to many unknowns or uncertainties.

The use of Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) is one method of trying to clear the immediate area around an activity of marine mammals. The aim of an ADD is to drive marine mammals beyond the range where the underwater noise being produced may damage their hearing when being used in this context (they are also used in other contexts such as around aquaculture sites). More information about ADDs and the licensing requirements in light of the disturbance these devices cause marine mammals are discussed along with other topics such as the effectiveness of ADDs in the JNCC report; ‘Evidence Base for application of Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) as marine mammal mitigation‘.


Image; Robin Rigg Wind Farm © Solway Firth Partnership.


Underwater noise in the Solway Firth

Marine mammals, fish, and invertebrate species are present in Solway Firth and can be negatively impacted through increased underwater noises in the Firth. As discussed, there is a lack of data and estuary specific research on underwater noise in the Solway Firth.

Many activities which cause underwater noise are of limited density in the Solway Firth due to the unsuitable or challenging conditions and features such as the large tidal range and constant movement of sediment in the inner firth.

Recreational boating has limited activity in the Firth (mostly focussed around the western shores of Dumfries and Galloway and Maryport/ Whitehaven). There are two ferry and commercial freight crossing routes from Cairnryan to Northern Ireland and two commercial freight ports in Workington and Silloth.

There is significant fishing activity and open dredge disposal sites (6 open sites in Scottish Solway, 3 open sites in the English Solway) in the Solway. There is also the Robin Rigg Wind Farm, the underwater noise of the wind farm is discussed on the next page. The Scottish Solway also has noise from military activity from Ministry of Defence sites, and potential noise from explosions or movement of debris from the historic dumping site at Beaufort’s Dyke, which is located to the west of the Rhins of Galloway between Scotland and Northern Ireland. We also know that there will have been underwater noise associated with the decommissioning of 2 of the original 60 turbines constructed for the Robin Rigg Wind Farm. All of these factors, along with noise producing recreational activities and any new construction on the coast or in the Solway itself will produce noise and impact the species in the Firth. The Firth is also known to host species of marine mammal which are sensitive to noise. This is an important consideration when managing the Solway Firth although there is limited site-specific historic data to provide baseline information. The sea becomes sediment-rich and dark as the Solway deepens and therefore the reliance on sound in the Solway water is extremely important to the species which live there.

Specific trends of underwater noise in the Solway Firth are unknown, however there are global trends showing a correlation between the increasing world fleet gross tonnage and increasing background underwater noise, provided through the paper ‘Noiseonomics: The relationship between ambient noise levels in the sea and global economic trends’ (Frisk, 2012).

It is likely that underwater noise in the Solway Firth has increased over the years alongside the general increase in human activities within the firth.


Image; Kirkcudbright Training Area © Solway Firth Partnership.


Robin Rigg Wind Farm

Since the construction of Robin Rigg Wind Farm there has been the ‘Analysis of Marine Ecology Monitoring Plan Data from the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm, Scotland’ published. There is a significant amount of information in this report which “represents analysis performed on ecological data collected before construction (during the baseline and pre-construction year), during construction and during the first two years of operation” (Walls et al, 2013) to record ecosystem changes resulting from wind farm construction and subsequent operation from four sets of survey data; benthic, birds, fish (non-migratory and electrosensisitve fish such as elasmobranchs) and marine mammal surveys.

This analysis covered data “collected during and post construction as part of Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 licensing requirements. There were no requirements to record short-term behavioural responses to piling (hammering foundations on which the wind farm was built into the seabed) but anecdotal evidence suggests that both porpoises and grey seals are present within the survey area within 24 hours of piling events, as has been reported from other offshore wind farms.” (Walls et al, 2013)

Within the chapter related to fish it was predicted that there would be little or negligible effects on fish populations in the Solway as a result of construction, and despite the lowest catch rates occurring during wind farm construction, there was no causal link found between these two events.

The benthic ecology chapter also mentions underwater noise as the ongoing operational noise of the wind farm “may be in a similar frequency range as shipping vessels, wind and waves, and would therefore contribute to the background low frequency noise… the Environmental Statement [which assesses the potential impacts from the proposed wind farm] predicted that unless vibration of the wind turbines alters the physical composition of the seabed, there should be no significant impacts on benthic communities.” (Rutherford & Lancaster, 2013)

The majority of information relating to underwater noise is found within the ‘Marine Mammals‘ chapter, which is consistent with the trend of much research on underwater noise focusing on marine mammals. The Environmental Assessment, tasked with assessing impacts from the Robin Rigg Wind Farm proposal, found ‘low’ impacts on cetaceans, with startled behaviour and short term avoidance being among the most prominent impacts. Pinnipeds (grey and harbour seals in the Solway) were considered to potentially have ‘moderate’ impacts, likely to adapt to the daily activities around the operating wind farm, low risk of psychological harm from piling activities, and likely short-term behavioural changes close to the site during wind farm construction.

During the construction, and first year of operation, monitoring of underwater noise in the area of Robin Rigg Wind Farm was required as per licence conditions. This included background noise, and noise from piling activity, and then operational noise post-construction. The focus was on long-term impacts (ecological and physical) from construction and operational noise. There were “no requirements were made to record short-term behavioural responses to piling noise” (Canning et al, 2013) meaning an analysis of behavioural changes from construction noise specifically was not possible.

Background noise in the Solway without Robin Rigg Wind Farm activities was described as ‘typical’ of coastal waters of the UK with vessel traffic being the predominant anthropogenic noise and variable. Piling noise contributed to increased underwater noise levels higher than background noise levels 20km away from the site.

Construction Phase

During the construction phase of the Robin Rigg Wind Farm, noise was measured along 4 transect lines which travelled away from the site in different directions. Transmission loss, (essentially the reduction of noise) varied with the direction it was travelling away from the site due to underwater features. This was explained in the analysis;

“the south transect indicates a similar loss (to the north east transect) due to geometric spreading, but a considerably lower rate of attenuation due to absorption. This correlates well with what would be expected from the physics of the propagation of underwater noise in varying water depths. As the water gets deeper along the south transect, the sound is able to propagate more efficiently and lower rates of absorption are evident. Greater interaction of the sound with the sea bed and water surface as it propagates into the shallower water along the north east transect causes greater attenuation due to absorption and a steeper reduction in levels of underwater noise with range.
During the construction phase of wind farm development, piling operations generated a significant increase in underwater noise over a broad range of frequencies. For measurements at and within 2 km, a broadband increase occurred at frequencies up to 100 kHz. For measurements at greater distances, there was still a significant increase in levels over background over a frequency range from 50 Hz to 2 kHz or above.”(Canning et al, 2013)

The tables below (Canning et al, 2013) are the predicted impacts on marine mammals during piling operations. As previously mentioned an analysis of behavioural changes from construction noise specifically was not possible. The tables show the range at which physical harm was predicted to occur during piling operations, and behavioural responses around piling activities at Robin Rigg Wind Farm, respectively.

Predicted range of physical or lethal harm to occur during piling operations at Robin Rigg Wind Farm;

Range (meters) South transect Southeast transect Northeast transect Northwest transect
Lethal 2 3 2 <1
Physical injury 40 10 35 10

Table Source; Table 6.9, Canning et al (2013),


Predicted behavioural response relative to the Robin Rigg Wind Farm;

Species Range (km) at which 90 dBht perceived
South transect Southeast transect Northeast transect Northwest transect
Harbour Seal 9 6 6.5 7
Harbour Porpoise 12.5 8 8 7.5
Bottlenost Dolphin 9 6.5 7.5 5.5

Table Source; Table 6.10, Canning et al (2013)


Other evidence provided is anecdotal. Looking at monthly abundance comparisons of marine mammals in the same month in years outside of piling activities compared to observations within the piling activities, no obvious abundance patterns which could be related to the piling activities. On days piling occurred there were four additional surveys conducted to confirm the effectiveness of mitigation measures. During one of these surveys harbour porpoise were sighted at and within 10km of the operations 5 hours and 4 hours, respectively, after piling had stopped. Furthermore, three out of four boat surveys conducted the day after piling activities observed marine mammals, suggesting their return to the area after piling activities had ended.


Operational Phase

For measuring operational noise, 6 transects (compared to the 4 for piling noise) from the site were used with measurements taken to be compared to the background measurements in addition to in-site measurements. The findings for operational noise detailed that;

“data recorded at ranges of approximately 20 m up to 5 km on each transect indicate that the underwater noise from the operational turbines is generally of a low frequency nature, with components of underwater noise mainly evident below approximately 500 Hz. Unweighted broadband recordings of underwater noise indicate that in most cases, the operational turbine noise was not detectable above background sea noise.
The levels of underwater noise measured during operational year one were sufficiently low that lethal, physical injury and auditory damage to marine species (fish and marine mammal) will not occur.” (Canning et al, 2013).

Operational noise was also concluded to be unlikely to cause area avoidance of marine mammals or fish.


Image; Robin Rigg Wind Farm from Siddick © Solway Firth Partnership.


Sources of noise in the underwater environment

Natural noise sources

Anthropogenic (human pollution) noise sources

Impulsive noise

·      Lightening

·      Underwater earthquake

·      Geological noise

·      Surface Ice breaking

·      Coastal Erosion debris falling into the water

·      Acoustic deterrent devices

·      Coastal industry including construction (e.g. pile driving etc)

·      Explosives (Ministry of Defence activities, old munitions from Beaufort’s Dyke)

·      Construction (pile driving)

·      Ship shock trial

·      Acoustic transponders

·      Doppler current profiler

·      Fish-finding sonar

·      Minesweeping equipment

·      Multibeam echo sounder

·      Normal-incidence echo sounder

·      Obstacle avoidance sonar

·      Research sonar

·      Seismic explorations Sidescan sonar

·      Sub-bottom profiler

Continuous noise

·      Biota other than mammals, fish and crustaceans

·      Breaking gravity (surf) waves

·      Crustaceans

·      Fish

·      Flow noise

·      Gravel noise

·      Mammals (whistle/ click/ pulsed call communications)

·      Precipitation other than rain

·      Rain

·      Thermal noise*

·      Wave-wave interactions

·      Bubble Formation

·      Acoustic cameras

·      Acoustic communications equipment

·      Dredging, pipe laying, cable laying

·      Fishing vessels

·      Flow noise (pipelines)

·      Industrial (harbour noise)

·      Oil and gas platforms (pumping, drilling, associated supple and maintenance)

·      Platform maintenance (supply, tugs)

·      Platform operation (e.g. tidal turbines)

·      Shipping (commercial vessels, leisure craft propellors, engines)

·      Motorised recreational activities (e.g. Jet Skiing)

·      Wind farm decommissioning

*Thermal noise is not sound; it contributes to the background noise of any measurement system based on the detection of pressure fluctuations.

Table Source; Adapted from Mills et al (2017)


Filling the data gaps

Underwater noise data in the Solway Firth specifically is limited, making understanding the local impacts and damage from local noise and noise which travels into the Solway from elsewhere, difficult. A detailed study of the Solway Firth will be needed to create a useful underwater noise profile for the area.

This is not an issue unique to the Solway. It was noted in the Clyde Marine Region Assessment (Mills et al, 2017) that data on underwater noise in the Clyde Marine Region was ‘extremely limited’, and also Scotland’s Marine Atlas stated there was insufficient evidence for a quantitative assessment of UK underwater noise in 2011.

The Marine Noise Registry has been gathering data on impulsive marine noise since 2015, however the long term effects of the underwater noise which has been recorded may not be fully realised, as this data collection only began 5 years ago. The same can be said for the cumulative impacts of noise, which are difficult to speculate on. The ongoing collection of this impulsive noise data will help add to the knowledge base for underwater noise.

There is a lack of knowledge of both individual as well as cumulative impacts of noise on marine ecosystems. Work is required to help fill these gaps in addition to building on the understanding of impacts from anthropogenic noise on the marine environment and marine organisms. More research is required to study the effect of underwater noise on benthic communities. 

Although there is research into the potential effect of underwater noise on certain species, predominantly mammals, there are still data gaps, especially when it comes to noise and other species. The potential impacts on both populations and ecosystems is also lacking data, with existing research focussed more on specific, and individual, species.
Data gaps and future areas of study were noted and summarised from an array of previous papers and research in Weilgart’s 2018 paper on underwater noise on fish and invertebrates. For each individual paper reference which the gap or study was gathered from please see page 26 of the paper here. Noted gaps include;

  • Masking of natural signals by airguns,
  • Lack of inclusion of elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) in seismic impact studies,
  • More study on noise impacts required for early life invertebrates, invertebrates more generally, sea-turtles, and elasmobranchs
  • Chronic and cumulative exposure,
  • Ultimate consequence of noise and the resulting impacts on population function,
  • The need for reliable indicators of stress which is harmful,
  • Addressing impacts spatial scale through increased field research,
  • Comparable research on populations in noisy/quiet areas and in a range of noise levels, not only loud and quiet
  • Biological responses (recovery) when noise is reduced
  • Masking experiments for predator/prey relationships
  • Locally vulnerable but important species identification
  • Creating quieter technologies for use in the marine environment
  • Mitigation methods effectiveness
  • More passive acoustic monitoring
  • Impact studies on essential habitat
  • Biodiversity and noise – acoustic measures & noise impacts
  • Identify and Protect biologically important fish and invertebrate habitat from noise
  • Identify injurious characteristics of noise
  • Explore loud noise exposure for a short time vs quiet noise for a long period and if one is preferable over the other
  • Increased hearing damage studies
  • Particle motion in studies – improved measurements, descriptions, standardisation
  • Impacts of noise on fisheries
    (Weilgart, 2018)


As with a lot of marine topics, there are exciting innovations and research being created frequently. A recent example is the partnership between the University of Portsmouth and The GB Row Challenge to ‘produce the first underwater sound map of the UK to measure noise pollution and the impact it has on the marine environment’ (University of Portsmouth, 2020), in addition to sample collection for microplastic analysis (for more information on microplastic see Litter.)


Image; Boats on the Solway (Kirkcudbright). © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant.



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Canning, Dr. S., Lye, Dr. G., Givens, L., Pendlebury, Dr. C. (2013). E.ON Climate & Renewables, Analysis of Marine Ecology Monitoring Plan Data from the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm, Scotland (Operational Year 2) Technical Report Chapter 6 Marine Mammals. Available here. (Accessed: 15.12.20)

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Image; Waves at Workington © Solway Firth Partnership.