An Open Letter To Our Members and Marine Mammal Mitigation Stakeholders
The Marine Mammal Observer Association (MMOA) have become aware that rates paid to many contractors engaged by the oil and gas industry have fallen significantly over recent months. While the MMOA recognise that this is a natural consequence of industry contraction, we are concerned that the emphasis on maintaining high environmental standards may start to decline. Regardless of rates paid the MMOA stress that it is important to ensure that:
High industry standards in other areas of operation should be mirrored in mitigation compliance. Mitigation personnel should have experience in seismic survey methods and protected species mitigation, including Passive Acoustics Monitoring (where applicable). Employing inexperienced and unqualified personnel should only be done in a limited capacity and under supervision of experienced personnel.
In December 2015 the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals was held in San Francisco, California. The conference was one of the largest in its 40-year history and saw over 2500 attendees from 80 countries and over 1000 presentations including talks, speed talks and over 500 posters.
Prior to the official start of the Conference two days of workshops were held including the MMOAs workshop on 'Incorporating new mitigation technologies into guidelines for seismic surveys and other underwater acoustic activities and producing performance standards', co-hosted once again with Dr. Andrew Wright from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (with the support of Mel Cosentino from Wild Earth Foundation). This workshop followed on from the very successful workshop the MMOA and New Zealand’s DOC hosted at the 29th European Cetacean Society Conference in Malta in March 2015.
The workshop in San Francisco was attended by over 50 people representing government, industry, environmental consultants, non-profit and academia. Professional MMOs and PAM Operators were also present, including at least 7 members of the MMOA.
In October 2015 the final Proceedings of the ECS Workshop New Mitigation Methods and Evolving Acoustic Explosure Guidelines were published. The proceedings, edited by Andrew Wright of New Zealand's Deparment of Conservation and Frances Robertson, current MMOA Chair, provides a combination of abstracts and short papers by those presenting at the workshop in Malta. The proceedings end with a summary of the workshop's afternoon discussion session -this summary also includes a list of the key points raised by workshop participants.
The workshop participants and organizers concluded that performance standards are key to addressing current and developting mitigation methods. It is surprising that to date there has been little assessment of the effectiveness of commonly applied mitigation methods -namely MMO and PAM methods and there are no specific standards to which these traditional methods are held. This makes it incredibly difficult to assess the effectiveness of new mitigation technologies. The report highlights the resounding need for minimum standards in terms of qualifications and experience of MMOs and PAM Operators, thier equipment and mitigation/data collection protocols. For example better data collection and reporting protocols would allow regulators greater opportunities to assess the effectiveness of different PAM systems and settings, as well as the effectiveness of MMO-based mitigation compared to PAM-based mitigation.
The MMOA and the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology (IMarEST) have been working together to develop a professional partnership in order to support the professional development of the MMOA and it's members. This partnership is being kick-started by an incredible offer to all MMOA members of complimentary membership to the IMarEST for one year.
What does this partnership mean for the MMOA?
What is professional development and how does it affect our industry?
"Any activitiy that strengthens knowledge that can be applied to an occupational role is classed as CPD. The term encompasses attending conferences, professional workshops, short courses, internships and even volunteering opportunities. It is an opportunity not just to refresh skills, but to demonstrate dedication to a cause thorugh actions."
Working together with IMarEST we hope to promote recognition of our members who have a proved track record of professional developement and meet a high standard of commitment to thier field to the relevent sectors, including industry and agencies. THis is just one more step in improving Marine Mammal Mitigation standards and that of the personnel working in the field as MMOs and PAM operators.
Working with the Santa Barbara -based CIMWI (Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute) and Whalefish, I have been assisting regularly with the stranding program of sea lion pups along the Californian coast. As part of a joint statewide rescue and research team the findings to date indicate that a likely contributor to the large number of stranded, malnourished pups has been a change in the availability of sea lion prey, especially sardines, a high value food source for nursing mothers. This year alone there have been over 2600 unusual mortality events for the whole coast and stranding network. CIMWI on its own have rescued over 320+ animals this year, predominantly California sea lions.
In this case, a collective investigation overseen by NOAA has determined that warmer ocean temperatures had forced fish to move further offshore, thereby forcing the sea lion mothers to swim further out and effectively abandon thier young. This resulted in thousands of pups being left emaciated, dehydrated and confused.
The MMOA are once again working with Dr. Andrew Wright and the New Zealand Department of Conservation to host a workshop on marine mammal mitigation methods at the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. The workshop, 'Incorporating new mitigation technologies into guidelines for seismic surveys and other underwater acoustic activities: Producing performance standards', will be an all day workshop on Sunday 13 December.
BRAHSS - Behavioural Response of Australian Humpback whales to Seismic Surveys, is a 6 year collaborative study, investigating the effects of seismic airguns on the behaviour of humpback whales during migration. The study aims to assess how humpback whales respond to seismic airguns during seismic surveys. It is one of the largest and most complex behavioural response studies ever undertaken on cetaceans. BRAHSS is a collaboration between the Universities of Queensland, Sydney, Curtin University and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, and field work included participants from several other organisations and volunteers.
This project as a whole aims to provide information that will reduce the uncertainty in evaluating impacts of seismic surveys on humpback whales, leading to management and mitigation measures that allow surveys to be conducted efficiently with minimum impact on the whales.
Peregian beach, two hours north of Brisbane, has been a hub of humpback whale research on the east coast of Australia since 2002 when a project known as HARC – the Humpback whale Acoustic Research Collaboration – started there. In many ways BRAHSS has become an extension of HARC, building on the data sets and methodologies developed from 2002-2009 field seasons, but also including significant additional acoustic measurements. BRAHSS is a Behavioural Response Study (BRS) otherwise known as a Controlled Exposure Experiment (CEE), the aim of which is to help us better understand how humpback whales respond to sounds from seismic air guns. To assess behavioural responses accurately we need to know how the whales’ responses might differ from those produced by natural stimuli (e.g. wind generated sea noise, conspecific sounds) or other anthropogenic sounds (e.g. passing ships and recreational vessels), and how social context might affect their responses. Singing whales, particularly their interactions with other non-singing conspecifics, will also be studied as part of BRAHSS. The data collection includes collecting behavioural data on whales as they move through the study area, conducting real-time, simultaneous acoustic and visual tracking of whales, exposure to real seismic air guns, the deployment of DTAGs, and the collection of fluke photographs and skin biopsies. The sound field is measured at many points throughout the study area to provide acoustic characterisation of the site and sound propagation.
In early May MMOA Committee Member Patrick Lyne attended the All Energy Exhibition in Glasgow. Prior to the exhibition Patrick presented at a workshop on low visibility detection for mitigation, organized by SMRU Consulting with representatives from Gardline, PGS and Fugro as well as the presenters. Presentations were heard from Phil Johnston (Seiche) on Infra Red systems, Remote PAM and using linked PAM systems on wide azimuth surveys as well as unmanned surface vehicles. Patrick (IWDG/MMOA) discussed soft start, the mitigation gun as well as PAM and Infra Red systems, Philippe Hubert (Prove Systems) covered underwater Infra Red, and Richard Adams (CodaOctopus) discussed multi-beam use for detection.Following presentations an information gathering session began where all known low visibility monitoring methods were listed along with suppliers. How these systems might be evaluated for detection and mitigation was also discussed. The eventual aim is to report and publish a paper by the autumn of 2016 on Low Visibility Detection Methods and their viability for oil and gas mitigation.
In March the MMOA co-hosted a workshop at the 29th European Cetacean Society Conference in Malta, alongside Dr. Andrew Wright and New Zealand's Department of Conservation to discuss new mitigation technologies and current acoustic exposure guidelines.
The workshop proved a great success with over 50 delegates. Representatives from nearly every marine mammal mitigation stakeholder group were present, including the oil and gas sector, the Joint Industry Program, E & P Sound and Marine Life Program, government agencies and regulators, MMO and PAM Operator agencies, MMO and PAM Operators themselves, marine mammal scientists, acousticians, and NGOs. Many delegates flew to Malta solely to attend our workshop. To gather such an array of interested groups is a rare feat, but highlights the interest and importance of improving marine mammal mitigation efforts around the world.
Members of the Whalefish Team attended and exhibited for the MMOA in August 2014 at the 3rd International Marine Conservation Congress, Making Marine Science Matter, Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.
The overall theme of the congress was Making Marine Science Matter. For marine conservation to be effective, marine conservation science must matter to stakeholders, policy makers, and practitioners. To accomplish this, the congress was organised around specific topics of interest for marine conservation in general, as well as the local area.
(*Original article published in the Marine Mammal Research Unit's Newsletter, February 2014)
Frances Robertson completed her PhD in the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada in July 2014, where she studied the behavioral responses of bowhead whales to seismic survey operations.
Bowhead whales are increasingly coming into contact with human activities in the Arctic, such as the oil and gas industry which directs low-frequency sounds into the environment as part of their seismic (acoustic) surveys to discover hydrocarbon deposits. But, bowhead whales are also low-frequency specialists and are therefore thought to be sensitive to these industrial seismic sounds.
One of the key ways that scientists and resource managers quantify and limit the exposure of whales to industrial activities is to count the number of individuals in the affected area. However, counting whales is no easy task. Whales are hard to spot because they are spread over very large areas and only come to the surface for short periods to breathe. Surveys for bowhead whales may be done by flying over the study area while observers scan the sea’s surface noting the number, activity, heading, and location for each whale sighted. These sightings are used to estimate the numbers of whales that are present.
This year’s ECS conference was held in Belgium where a key area of interest was on the impact of anthropogenic noise in the marine environment. This topic attracted many MMOs to attend the conference. Prior to the conference a series of workshops of specialized subjects were also held. Two of these workshops were of particular interest to the MMOA, including a full day’s workshop on the impact of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals and a workshop on conservation issues for marine mammals in South America.
The aim of the anthropogenic noise workshop was to develop accurate and scientific based advice for regulators. During the workshop, specialists like Peter Tyack, Roger Gentry, Michel Andre and Peter Evans presented some of their work, which resulted in an interesting debate on (Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) and Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS) levels as they become increasingly species dependent. Overall, many issues worth considering were raised –final results of the discussions will be published in the near future.
Between 7 and 13 December 2013, I was able to attend the 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals at the Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand.
At the start of the conference there were two days of workshops, all of which were very interesting and made it difficult to choose! Personally, I choose to participate in “Best practice principles for monitoring the effect of coastal development on marine mammals” and “Cognition and Self-awareness in Cetaceans: A review of ethical implications for conservation laws”, two very intriguing and interesting topics, which made the days go by quickly! This weekend of workshops ended with the IceBreaker at the Museum of Otago, where we were able to come together and catch up with all the friends and colleagues that had arrived by that time.
In January 2014 Sarah Barry of the Executive Committee independently attended the first advanced PAMGuard course. PAMGuard is one of the leading research and industry PAM software for real-time data collection and offline analysis. The developers of PAMGuard offer several different courses including an Introduction to PAMGuard and practical PAMGuard courses and now a two-day classroom-based course which enables those with previous PAMGuard experience to get to grips with more advanced features, in particular offline analysis and data management. The courses have a high tutor-to-student ratio to ensure participants are able to receive individual assistance with their training requirements.
The advanced course included some core analysis modules and participants were able to explore the advanced functions in viewer mode. Participants were also able to tailor training to their particular needs by selecting from a range of optional modules including how to use complex classifiers such as Whistle Detection and Classification, High Resolution Localisation, Target Motion Localisation, Data Management, Noise Monitoring, and MATLAB library.
These modules were all very interesting, and useful for research and offline analysis, but not appropriate for PAM operators using PAMGuard for real time mitigational purposes. However, a module that showed how the automatic field data logging program Logger can be used within PAMGuard did prove to be interesting and relevant for mitigation. This may prove to be a useful tool for collecting sightings data alongside PAM. Using Logger, it is also possible to design any number of forms for manual input of data so all data required by standardised forms (JIP, JNCC) could be entered relatively easily.
Trinidad and Tobago is the leading Caribbean producer of oil and gas, and its economy is heavily dependent upon these resources. Offshore oil exploration surrounding the Trinidad and Tobago archipelago has been undertaken for many years with 39 deep water (12,000 feet or more) blocks established.
The Environmental Management Authority, a Trinidad and Tobago government authority, put out an open request for proposals early in 2013 which attracted numerous local and international bids. Oceanwatch Marine Mammal Observer Services Ltd, based in Trinidad, won this bid process to develop seismic survey guidelines for the Trinidad and Tobago archipelago.
The MMOA is delighted to hear of this development as it is our policy to encourage countries to formulate mitigation measures specific to their waters and the species that will be encountered.