Seismic and Marine Sound Research

Overview

Seismic surveying uses rebounding sound to build up a picture of the sea floor and the geological structures up to 10 kilometres beneath it to investigate the presence of gas, oil and mineral reserves for future exploitation. Seismic surveying has been a significant concern for fishers and the communities that depend on fisheries for their livelihoods.

Much of the discussion has been based on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, leading the FRDC to invest in a range of projects to investigate those impacts, as well as to provide an evidentiary base to help stakeholders from mining and fishing to constructively work together.

While seismic is a priority for the fishing industry, other aspects of marine sound are also important.  There is increasing concern that marine sound is impacting on fish stocks and altering behaviour.

More information

  • FISH Vol 26 number 2 Cooperative approach on seismic impacts - 'Western Australia's pearl industry is taking a new tack with seismic surveyors and oil and gas explorers.'
  • FISH Vol 25 number 4 Sound responses - ''Hearing' damage in Southern Rock Lobsters and a flinch response in Scallops are two effects identified in world-leading research into the long-term impact of seismic surveys on marine animals.'
  • FISH Vol 23 number 3 New wave of seismic engagement - 'The heightened profile of seismic activity in Australian waters is generating new science about potential effects, answering some questions and dispelling some misconceptions.'
  • FISH Vol 23 number 1 Sound effects - 'While humans harness sound to navigate the ocean and its riches, there are growing concerns about the potential impact of industrial noise pollution on marine ecosystems.'

Research Management

The FRDC has established a national coordination project managed by Western Australia Fishing Industry Council to:

The funding pathway marine seismic and sound research is through existing RAC and IPA investment process.

  1. Deliver a publicly accessible portal - a "one stop shop" for seismic research bibliographies, case studies and other relevant commercial fishing oil and gas information.
  2. Deliver ongoing identification and qualification of relevant research papers and reference cases including annotated summaries to ensure relevance for ready and easy access by the commercial fishing sector, oil and gas and the broader community.
  3. Deliver a set number of supported research applications relevant to the effects of oil and gas activities on commercial fishing / commercial fishing stocks, such as gap analysis and prioritisation.
  4. Deliver a "best practice" document for commercial fishing representative bodies to use as a strong base for environment plan submissions.
  5. Deliver a "best practice" document for commercial fishing representative bodies to use as a strong base and consistent process for fee-for-service environment plan consultation.

The funding pathway for marine seismic and sound research is through existing Research Advisory Committee and Industry Partnership Agreements investment process.

Key contacts 

Research papers

A growing list of publications are available for download and review.

FRDC Seismic Research Report Summaries

2012-008 “Assessing the impact of marine seismic surveys on southeast Australian scallop and lobster fisheries”

The final report for this project was independently peer reviewed by the FRDC and project steering committee.

The project investigated the potential impact of seismic surveys on economically important fishery species, specifically Southern Rock Lobster (Jasus edwardsii)and Commercial Scallop (Pecten fumatus). For Southern Rock Lobster, the research suggests that it is unlikely that seismic surveys cause immediate large scale mortality. Also there was no effect shown in early stage lobster embryos. However, no experiments were conducted on the full suite of embryonic or larval stages so effect on these stages are unknown. Exposure to airgun signals did cause some alteration to adult biology including depression of haemocytes available for immune responses, impairment of reflex behaviours for tail and righting control as well as damage to the sensory hairs on the statocyst (a balance sensory receptor).

With scallops, seismic exposure did not cause immediate mass mortality, however, there was a trend between exposure level and mortality with severely compromised physiology over a 4 month time frame after which there was no signs of recovery. There were also significant changes in behaviour and reflexes following exposure. These impacts could cause a reduced tolerance to other stressors but it is still unclear whether the physiological impairment would cause chronic mortality in timeframes beyond those in the project.

2013-209 “Optimising processes and policy to minimise business and operational impacts of seismic surveys on the fishing industry and oil and gas industry”

The final report has been completed following review by the FRDC.

The project aimed to improve processes of communication and build relationships between the fishing and petroleum industries so that there is a shared understanding of potential impacts (financial, operational and logistical) and how they could be minimised. During the project, the establishment of the National Offshores Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Agency (NOPSEMA) improved consultation processes. Case studies recognised areas of negative impact as well as examples of best practice. From these case studies four processes were developed to deal with issues identified:
* Having accessible, easy to use central website-based information on the two industry’s associated communication processes.
* Undertaking Roundtable discussion and feedback into overarching policy and process;
* Holding annual regional stakeholder meetings to discuss future planning and issues; and,
* Undertaking one-on-one industry/individual discussions.

2014-041 “Potential impact of low-frequency sound from seismic operations on benthic communities in the Gippsland Basin”

The final report for this project was independently peer reviewed by the FRDC and project steering committee.

This project was initiated to undertake a before and after assessment to quantify potential impacts from a 2D seismic survey undertaken by Geoscience Australia in the Gippsland Basin off the coast of Victoria. Initially the project was to obtain seafloor images and identify scallops via an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Four acoustic recording units were used with 3 being used in the vicinity of the seismic survey and one control. A number of dredge samples were also taken in areas outside of the seismic survey area to assess number of alive and dead scallops as well as the meat and gonad condition of scallops.

The project did have some issues with technology with the AUV footage prior to the seismic survey not being usable due to poor image quality. Additionally, one unit failed to record during the time that the survey was directly above it. The report has stated that there was no short term impact found and suggested as a recommendation that further studies should focus on longer term impacts (addressed below).

 

Project Number
Title
Status
2017-186
Oil and Gas: National coordination - seismic and other issues
Current
2017-142
Travel bursary: Sustainable Ocean Summit 2017, Canada
Completed
2012-008
Assessing the impact of marine seismic surveys on southeast Australian scallop and lobster fisheries
Completed
2013-209
Optimising processes and policy to minimise business and operational impacts of seismic surveys on the fishing industry and oil and gas industry
Completed
2014-041
Potential impact of low-frequency sound from seismic operations on benthic communities in the Gippsland Basin
Completed
2004-049
The effects of western rock lobster fishing on the deepwater ecosystems off the west coast of Western Australia
Completed