Making Marine Noise Pollution Impacts Heard: The Case of Cetaceans in the North Sea within Life Cycle Impact Assessment
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Abstract Oceans represent more than 95% of the world’s biosphere and are among the richest sources of biodiversity on Earth. However, human activities such as shipping and construction of marine infrastructure pose a threat to the quality of marine ecosystems. Due to the dependence of most marine animals on sound for their communication, foraging, protection, and ultimately their survival, the effects of noise pollution from human activities are of growing concern. Life cycle assessment (LCA) can play a role in the understanding of how potential environmental impacts are related to industrial processes. However, noise pollution impacts on marine ecosystems have not yet been taken into account. This paper presents a first approach for the integration of noise impacts on marine ecosystems into the LCA framework by developing characterization factors (CF) for the North Sea. Noise pollution triggers a large variety of impact pathways, but as a starting point and proof-of-concept we assessed impacts on the avoidance behaviour of cetaceans due to pile-driving during the construction of offshore windfarms in the North Sea. Our approach regards the impact of avoidance behaviour as a temporary loss of habitat, and assumes a temporary loss of all individuals within that habitat from the total regional population. This was verified with an existing model that assessed the population-level effect of noise pollution on harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in the North Sea. We expanded our CF to also include other cetacean species and tested it in a case study of the construction of an offshore windfarm (Prinses Amalia wind park). The total impact of noise pollution was in the same order of magnitude as impacts on other ecosystems from freshwater eutrophication, freshwater ecotoxicity, terrestrial acidification, and terrestrial ecotoxicity. Although there are still many improvements to be made to this approach, it provides a basis for the implementation of noise pollution impacts in an LCA framework, and has the potential to be expanded to other world regions and impact pathways.