Marine seismic surveys are a fundamental tool for geological research, including the exploration of offshore oil and gas resources, but the sound generated during these surveys represents a source of noise pollution in the marine environment. Recent evidence has shown that seismic surveys may negatively affect some cetaceans, fish and invertebrates, although the magnitude of these impacts remains uncertain. This paper applies a case study on marine seismic impacts (the Gippsland Marine Environmental Monitoring (GMEM) project) to the critical assessment of the advantages and challenges of field-based methods in the context of future research and management priorities. We found that an interdisciplinary approach, using both conventional (e.g. dredging) and innovative (e.g. autonomous imagery) experimental components, make for more robust interpretations and also provide a failsafe in case of limited suitable data (e.g. equipment issues related to image acquisition). Field observational studies provide an unparalleled capability to undertake ecologically realistic research, although their practical challenges must be considered during research planning. We also note the need for appropriate environmental baselines and accessible time-series data to account for spatiotemporal variability of environmental and biological parameters that may mask effects, as well as the need for a standardised technique in sound monitoring and equipment calibration to ensure accuracy and comparability among studies.