Field Report from Barcelona

I spent last week at Vilanova i la Geltrú – just down the coast from Barcelona, Spain at OceaNoise2017, a conference specifically focused on ocean noise pollution issues. All conferences have a purpose, but this one also had a personality.

Many of the scientific or technical meetings I attend are congregations of academics sharing their research, regulators “keeping their fingers in the water,” and institutional funders like the US Navy and folks from the fossil fuel industry reviewing the progress of their funding efforts. This conference was decidedly shy of academics and mostly attended by service providers and professionals working in contract labs, some of their clients, and a few of us from the NGO community.

It was a pleasant surprise seeing colleagues from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attending, given the current state of affairs in the US Federal Government. Industry was also in attendance, although the gentleman from the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) sort-of peed on his shoes with his keynote address, rolling out the industry chestnut about there being “no scientific evidence that seismic surveys have any impacts on marine mammal populations…” He was playing it to the wrong room.

I found the nuanced discussion among the professionals encouraging. Academics seem to get hung up on orthodoxies, and I suppose that regulators are reluctant to open up cans of worms; but phrases like “particle motion,” “time domain,” “wavelets,” and my banner word “kurtosis” were being tossed around liberally.

It was also encouraging – particularly since the issuance of the NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap that systematic assessment of habitats is lodged into the ecological canon. As much as the current US administration wants to sink the idea, now that it is embedded in the conversation, it won’t be removed.

There is much more to be said about OceaNoise2017. Spending a week with a convivial gathering of professionals yielded any excellent and informative conversations (although some maybe a bit arcane for this list). But like the words, phrases, and frameworks that have sunk into this ocean noise pollution discussion, these concepts will fertilize all of our work. The acoustical health of the ocean can only benefit.

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