About the marine noise pollution off Colombia

by Passenger

Text and sound recordings: Leonel Ramiro Vasquez Zarate

Dear Katharina,

my name is Leonel Vásquez, I'm a Colombian sound artist, and already for some time I've been working on my professional and private life project: a continuous investigation of the effects on phylogenetic, cultural and environmental levels, that have sound and hearing on the limitation of habitable territories and their sustainability. For more information about my artistic life you can visit my website: www.leonelvasquez.com

A few days ago I took part in a boat trip with firmm and used the opportunity to record the underwater sounds during whale watching; we agreed that I'd write and send the tape as soon as I got back to Colombia, and would also report on what is happening in Colombia's seas and endangers the life of humpback whales, who visit the warm waters of the Pacific coast of Colombia every year to mate. There, the state, in alliance with multinational industrial concerns for fossil fuels, started research to identify the country's major oil and gas wells; furthermore political reforms are also being brought forward to facilitate the exploitation and use of the seas without any environmental investigations or special permits. This has already led in the past to devastated landscapes and irreversible destruction of the environment and culture in Colombia, as well as disastrous social damage.


Noise in the Strait of Gibraltar, with clicks and codas of sperm whales, as well as click rows of bottlenose dolphins

I would be very grateful if we could join forces to do something for the whales of the planet, you through science and environmental protection and your worldwide network of nature lovers and activists, I through my art and social work in Colombia.

I am looking forward to receiving ideas, comments and suggestions.

Best regards


Following you find an article I wrote about this topic.

Underwater deafness in the Colombian Caribbean

In 2014, the authorization of the National Fossil Fuel Agency of Colombia (ANH) re-launched the offshore model for the detection and production of oil and gas; the agency authorised Ecopetrol and other multinational oil companies through licences to conduct oceanographic research and identification of sources, which, according to the current state of things, has successfully registered a source of oil - with 264 million barrels near Punta Gallina in Guajira, and a gas deposit near the Gulf of Urabá (Colombia), according to the report. It must be made clear that such work involves processes that cause very strong and intense underwater noise: seismic tests, installation of pipelines, and construction of oil rigs, constant excavation and drilling. The deep waters of the Caribbean are exposed to very high levels of noise pollution. And as long as we land dwellers do not want to listen, the fish and other living creatures have to listen. Although no further research is being carried out, current scientific evidence shows that the energy generated by such technologies has a negative impact on marine mammals, fish and other marine life forms.

The animals are exposed to a series of changes in the acoustic environment of the oceans, such as frequencies, sound levels and intolerable exposure times. In order to better understand the implications of this, I will provide comparable values for human hearing in terms of noise, audibility limit, sensation of pain and hearing loss. The perception limit of human frequencies is approximately 20-20,000 Hz, with a maximum intensity of 75 decibels (dB); anything that goes beyond that and lasts for a prolonged period of time is considered noise pollution. Hearing damage occurs from 110 decibels upwards, and if you increase the volume, it leads to hearing loss. Let's now take a look at the impact we would be exposed to according to the following table [1], which indicates an output of up to 259 dB for the so-called "Array Air Pistols". These are used to search for oil and natural gas in the seabed and operate with incredibly powerful sound waves directed at the geological structures.


Noise generated by seismic generators

Type of source Depth (m) Noise Level
dB ref 1µPa @ 1 m
Air-Gun Array    
GSC 7900   259
ARCO 4000 10 255
GECO Array 3100 7,6 252
GSI Array Jonsson 200 6,1 249
SSL Array 1460 7,6 242
GECO 594 Subarray 8,2 235
Air-Gun Simple    
Little 9,1 216
Medium 9,1 225
Big 9,1 232
Sleever Exploder   148 - 153 @ 8 Km
115 - 117 @ 25 Km
Gas - Gun   123 - 0,9 Km
117 - 14,8 Km

The sea animals of the Colombian Caribbean are exposed to more than 200 dB, so it's not surprising that humpback whales and other whales are now suffering from bleeding gums and hearing loss and end up stranding, change or interrupt their mating behaviour, diet, rearing of calves or defense mechanisms.

Now the same project is being prepared for implementation off the Colombian coast, to which the humpback whales come every year in search of warm waters to reproduce. What can we do? How could the problems of underwater life be brought to the attention of the Colombians?

More information about the project to increase oil reserves and their mining in the open sea you can find here in Spanisch.

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