Rob Williams is a Canadian marine conservation scientist who co-founded the Oceans Initiative and the Oceans Research and Conservation Association with his wife and fellow scientist, Erin Ashe. He has been a member of the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee since 2001.
Many marine species communicate using sound, which transmits well through water, and marine mammals, in particular, have exquisite physiological mechanisms to make and receive sounds, from echolocation clicks to mating songs. However, maritime activities such as shipping, seismic surveys, military sonar, and pile driving have caused ocean noise levels in some regions to double every decade for the past 40 years. Despite this long history, marine ecologists and conservation scientists have only recently begun incorporating noise into research and mitigation efforts, but mounting evidence from around the world indicates that noise affects the vital life functions of invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals.
To build on this evidence, Williams used his Pew fellowship to better understand this impact, offer evidence-based advice on allowable ocean noise limits, and establish quieter marine protected areas. Williams tested the responses of selected marine mammal and fish species to a wide range of small-boat and ship noise. He worked with acousticians and marine spatial planners to identify areas that are likely to be a high priority for protection because they are important habitats for marine mammals and have little or no human-caused sound. This research will provide ecological context for ongoing efforts to produce a global ocean noise map.