Forty feet below the surface of Puget Sound, a marbled murrelet dives for its catch. The water is cold, dark — and incredibly noisy. A ping-ping-ping emanates from the shore over second-long intervals and continues on for the next several hours, sending a series of pressure waves through the ocean. For the endangered bird, these sounds could result in anything from a disturbing annoyance to internal injuries or even death.
The pings come from installing marine piles, concrete or steel pipes that are driven into the sediments to hold up piers or other platforms over the sea. Piles are ubiquitous in waterfront cities like Seattle. In the early 2000s, however, researchers began to realize there was a connection between installing piles and the dead fish that turned up floating on the water when they did it: the pile-driving noise was so loud, it was literally killing the surrounding marine life.
But now there might be a better way to put the piles in. Seattle-based Marine Construction Technologies, a spinoff of the University of Washington’s CoMotion startup program, says it has developed a much quieter pile-driving system that could help save aquatic animals’ hearing — and lives.
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(Originally published by OPB FM & Samantha Larson)