by Theresa Peluso
There you are on a fine summer evening, sitting by the lake, quietly contemplating the sunset and the croaks and calls of the frogs and loons, when out of nowhere – VROOOMMM!!! – a speedboat careens past you, breaking the stillness. I can well imagine your reaction, but what about the reaction of the frogs and loons, and all the other creatures in your vicinity?
So many human-made noises are now part of our aural environment: the steady hum of traffic, the rumble of heavy trucks and generators, the roar of snowmobiles, speedboats, ATVs, chainsaws, farm machinery, jackhammers, helicopters and airplanes, the loud drone of lawnmowers, and the piercing lament of passing trains, to mention just a few. Noise pollution – sounds or noises that are unnatural in either their volume or their production – is all around us.
Here is the conclusion of a paper published in 2007 by L. Goines and L. Hagler:
Noise is defined as unwanted sound. Environmental noise consists of all the unwanted sounds in our communities except that which originates in the workplace. Environmental noise pollution, a form of air pollution, is a threat to health and well-being. It is more severe and widespread than ever before, and it will continue to increase in magnitude and severity because of population growth, urbanization, and the associated growth in the use of increasingly powerful, varied, and highly mobile sources of noise. It will also continue to grow because of sustained growth in highway, rail, and air traffic, which remain major sources of environmental noise. The potential health effects of noise pollution are numerous, pervasive, persistent, and medically and socially significant. Noise produces direct and cumulative adverse effects that impair health and that degrade residential, social, working, and learning environments with corresponding real (economic) and intangible (well-being) losses. It interferes with sleep, concentration, communication, and recreation. The aim of enlightened governmental controls should be to protect citizens from the adverse effects of airborne pollution, including those produced by noise. People have the right to choose the nature of their acoustical environment; it should not be imposed by others. (from abstract for Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague by Lisa Goines, RN and Louis Hagler, MD, in the Southern Medical Journal, vol. 100: March 2007, pp. 287-294).
We humans can always resort to ear protectors; unfortunately, animals don’t have this option. Excessive noise can result in hearing loss, making animals less effective at hunting or at eluding predators. It drowns out mating calls and interferes with echo-location and migration. Too much noise can result in animals abandoning their territory. Because animal behavior also has an impact on plants (pollination, seed consumption and dispersal, etc.), plants, too, are affected by noise pollution. Noise also affects wildlife near or in the water – fish, turtles, frogs, whales, dolphins, and so many more.
As with humans, noise pollution increases the heart rate, respiration and general stress levels in animals –even more so, because they are unable to understand or control the impact. Needless to say, excessive noise has a significant impact on the normal balance of the ecosystem. For references on scientific studies on this topic, see www.naturesounds.org >Conservation and Quietude and indiancountrytodaynetwork.com/scientists-find-noise-pollution-affects-both-animal-and-plant-life, webecoist.momtastic.com/…/please-shut-up-10-animals-affected-by-noise-pollution.
Even eco-tourists can add to the problem, depending on how they get around. Travelling on foot or on bicycle, or by rowboat, canoe or kayak is great; by helicopter, land rover, motorboat, or ship – not so much.
So what can we do to reduce our exposure to noise pollution?
Reduce your own contribution to the problem by minimizing your use of machinery and other noise-producing devices, both at home and on vacation. You have recourse to various federal, provincial and municipal laws and by-laws restricting noise levels that interfere with your enjoyment of your property. The Canadian Hearing Society website (http://www.chs.ca/ position-paper-noise-pollution) provides many suggestions on how to reduce excessive noise to protect your hearing, although it doesn’t address the issue of noise pollution in nature. You can also join groups like the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology, a coalition of Canadian individuals and institutions concerned with the state of the soundscape, or organize a group in your own municipality. Share your concerns about noise pollution with other people, with businesses that contribute to the problem, and with your elected officials.
If you enjoy noise-pollution-free camping, be sure to check the regulations for the park where you’re headed regarding motorboats and off-road vehicles. These regulations can vary considerably from park to park, and from province to province. Take advantage of special outings, such as the annual Spring Nature Walk on Blueberry Mountain in Lanark County, an annual fundraiser for the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy that uses bioacoustics equipment to enhance the sounds of nature for individual listening.
Ahhh, for some peace and quiet….