Sonic Seas: Ocean noise pollution
Spindrift for schools

By  Dona Bertarelli

I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.

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Sonic Seas: Ocean noise pollution

Many children and their parents have asked what we find most difficult and challenging about sailing a race for weeks on end.  There are many aspects that can be difficult. Being cold or on the contrary too hot, such as when we crossed the Equator just a few days ago. Battling humidity, sleep deprivation, eating dried food and missing things we take for granted in our daily lives, like taking a shower, reading a newspaper or watching a movie. But among the toughest aspects for me is the constant, grinding, low-pitched screech that is generated by the movement of the carbon fiber hulls through the water. The easing of a Gennaker sheet sounds like thunder! The noise is deafening, and makes it at times hard to talk, to carry out basic chores, even to think. Scientists report that noise can increase stress levels, as well as modify our sleep pattern and appetite.

Spindrift 2’s crew is well trained and experienced with these situations and each of us has learned to cope in different ways.  Personally, when I am off watch and not on deck, I listen to calming music. But when it is time to sleep, I use earplugs or special headphones that reduce the noise level. Sometimes, I even use both!

Working in this brain-muddling cloud of noise for many weeks makes me profoundly sympathetic with marine animals that must cope with the growing problem of noise pollution in the ocean.

Because noise travels through water much more readily than light, many animals rely on sound rather than sight as their principal means of sensing the surrounding environment.  Growing anthropogenic noise – from ship traffic, from oil and gas operations using explosive sound, from construction, and from military sonar operations – poses an increasing threat to a wide range of marine species. Particularly vulnerable are whales, dolphins and porpoise. These animals are very vocal, and sound is the principal means through which they find mates, communicate with offspring, locate food and perform other basic life functions.  And many species of fish, and even some invertebrates, rely on sound in similar ways.  As a new documentary that will air next year on the Discovery Channel illustrates, noise is pulling at the sonic fabric that holds the oceans together.

There are ways to reduce the sound generated by these activities, but industry has been slow to invest in them.   That won’t change until more people make their voices heard in support of protecting whales, and other vulnerable species from the cacophony that surrounds them.

Listen to the noises inside Spindrift 2

The noise inside Spindrift 2