Multiple field-based methods to assess the potential impacts of seismic surveys on scallops

Open Access Peer Reviewed Publication 2017

Marine Pollution Bulletin

Marine seismic surveys are an important tool to map geology beneath the seafloor and manage petroleum resources, but they are also a source of underwater noise pollution. A mass mortality of scallops in the Bass Strait, Australia occurred a few months after a marine seismic survey in 2010, and fishing groups were concerned about the potential relationship between the two events. The current study used three field-based methods to investigate the potential impact of marine seismic surveys on scallops in the region: 1) dredging and 2) deployment of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) were undertaken to examine the potential response of two species of scallops (Pecten fumatus, Mimachlamys asperrima) before, two months after, and ten months after a 2015 marine seismic survey; and 3) MODIS satellite data revealed patterns of sea surface temperatures from 2006–2016. Results from the dredging and AUV components show no evidence of scallop mortality attributable to the seismic survey, although sub-lethal effects cannot be excluded. The remote sensing revealed a pronounced thermal spike in the eastern Bass Strait between February and May 2010, overlapping the scallop beds that suffered extensive mortality and coinciding almost exactly with dates of operation for the 2010 seismic survey. The acquisition of in situ data coupled with consideration of commercial seismic arrays meant that results were ecologically realistic, while the paired field-based components (dredging, AUV imagery) provided a failsafe against challenges associated with working wholly in the field. This study expands our knowledge of the potential environmental impacts of marine seismic survey and will inform future applications for marine seismic surveys, as well as the assessment of such applications by regulatory authorities.

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