Noise generated by offshore construction work, such as piling during windfarm construction has potential to affect marine wildlife. As a result, in Europe, industry is obliged to undertake measures to monitor and reduce noise levels during offshore construction activities. The strictest guidelines in the world are currently in Germany, where OSC has been working since 2004. Currently, there is no specific guidance in New Zealand in relation to underwater noise from pile driving. Pile driving companies work towards the Code of Conduct for Minimising Acoustic Disturbance to Marine Mammals from Seismic Survey Operations (Department of Conservation, 2013) as although seismic sources are not directly relevant, the two activities have similar sound characteristics.
Effects of pile-driving on marine mammals
The effects of underwater noise on marine fauna depend greatly on the characteristics of the sound. A useful distinction can be made between continuous (long duration), transient (short duration), and repeated transient sounds (de Jong et al., 2011). According to Southall et al. (2019), there are three distinct sound types that are relevant for marine mammal noise exposure criteria:
Pile driving for windfarm construction is classified as multiple pulses, which are normally brief, broadband, atonal and periodic. In addition to pile-driving noise, background noise, which is treated as continuous sound, must also be measured as a baseline for comparison.
Since company incorporation in 2004, OSC’s considerable experience of working to Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) guidelines and Marine Management Organisation (MMO) requirements for various industries has given us an in-depth knowledge of guideline/regulation interpretation and application in the real world. Including working towards Australia’s Underwater Piling Noise Guidelines (DPTI 2012), and New Zealand’s Code of Conduct (DoC 2013).
OSC’s Marine Mammal Mitigation Plans (MMMPs) set out a mitigation methodology and reporting for any instances of UneXploded Ordnance (UXO) detonation and piled, or part-piled, wind turbine foundation installation. OSC work with the MMO, Natural England, Marine Scotland, and other regulators to ensure a final MMMP is agreed. More specifically, OSC’s MMMPs are consistent with the Statutory Nature Conservation Agency protocol for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from piling noise (JNCC, 2010a), explosives, if applicable (JNCC, 2010b), and comply with our client’s Energy’s Development Consents Order (DCO) granted by the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
OSC has over a decade of experience working with the Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency, BSH) in German waters, and in 2004, was the first British company to win a German underwater noise modelling study. Since then, the rules have changed, and OSC has modified underwater noise measuring protocols (and equipment) accordingly.
To date only Germany and Belgium have issued specific values for noise thresholds. In Germany, the threshold value issued by the Umweltbundesamt (German Federal Environment Agency, UBA) is based on data collected in a single scientific study on one harbour porpoise exposed to seismic airgun noise (Lucke et al., 2009). These regulations, which are now binding legally, are described by de Jong et al. (2011) as a threshold consisting of a dual criterion of 160 dB re 1 μPa²s Sound Exposure Level (SEL) and 190 dB re 1 μPa² (peak-to-peak Sound Pressure Level, SPL), that should not be exceeded at a distance of 750 m around the noise (piling) site. This threshold has been based on a Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) found in the harbour porpoise at 164 dB re 1 μPa²s SEL and 199 dB re 1 μPa² (peak to peak SPL); thus, the chosen values include some safety adjustment (de Jong et al., 2011).
Details of the range of underwater noise monitoring equipment used by OSC around the world is described here, but all OSC noise measuring equipment complies with BSH standards (BSH, 2011; BSH, 2013a).
OSC’s marine mammal habitats assessment methodology complies with all standards outlined in (BSH, 2013b). We have been using arrays of C-PODs and T-PODs to assess harbour porpoise habitat behaviour and cumulative noise impacts for windfarms in German and UK waters since 2004, and throughout the world generally.
Since 2004, OSC has undertaken numerous baseline survey, underwater noise, and MMO projects in the UK, Germany, Norway, Finland, Taiwan, and published in peer-reviewed journals. OSC are 100% familiar with the requirements set out in the BSH documents, and other similar non-German projects elsewhere. A list of our windfarm clients can be found here. A full list of references is available upon request.
OSC has an Integrated Management System (IMS) that is certified to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015, and Occupational Health & Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001:2007 standards. OSC is also registered on Achilles’ UVDB database.
BSH (2011): BSH-Standard: Offshore Wind Farms – Measuring Instruction for Underwater Sound Monitoring. 31.
BSH (2013a): BSH-Standard: Offshore Wind Farms – Measuring Specification for the Quantitative Determination of the Effectiveness of Noise Control Systems. 20.
BSH (2013b): Standard – Investigation of the impact of offshore wind turbines on the marine environment (StUK4). Bundesamt für Seeschiffahrt und Hydrographie (BSH), Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency, Hamburg und Rostock 2013, pp. 87.
de Jong, C.A.F., Ainslie, M.A., and Blacquière, G. (2011): Standard for measurement and monitoring of underwater noise, Part II: procedures for measuring underwater noise in connection with offshore wind farm licensing. TNO report, TNO-DV 2011 C251. Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek. 56 pp.
JNCC (2010a): Statutory nature conservation agency protocol for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from piling noise. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Inverness. 14 pp.
JNCC (2010b): JNCC guidelines for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from using explosives. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Aberdeen, UK. 10 pp.
Lucke, K., Siebert, U., Lepper, P.A., and Blanchet, M.A. (2009): Temporary shift in masked hearing thresholds in a harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) after exposure to seismic airgun stimuli. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 125, 4060–4070.
Southall, B.L., Finneran, J.J., Reichmuth, C., Nachtigall, P.E., Ketten, D.R., Bowles, A.E., Ellison, W.T., Nowacek, D.P., and Tyack, P.L. (2019): Marine mammal noise exposure criteria: Updated scientific recommendations for residual hearing effects. Aquatic Mammals 45, 125-232.