Polluting Nature With Our Noise

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When most people think about conservation in Nature, they think of ways to conserve and protect physical ecosystems like forests and the animal life that lives in these ecosystems. However, there are other systems in Nature that are not visible but are vitally important. One such system is sounds in Nature. It is a system that needs preservation just like all other ecosystems.


Natural soundscapes are the voices of entire ecological systems.


Every living organism—from the tiniest to the largest—and every site on earth has its own acoustic signature. Human noises – deliberate or not deliberate, well meaning or malicious – interrupt or break vital communication links between creatures in Nature. These sonic links in Nature serve procreation, mating, warning, defense and other behaviors that are essential to wildlife for daily living and and for survival. 


Quiet, according to soundscape ecologist Gordon Hempton is not the absence of sound, it is the “absence of noise”. Quiet, in this sense,  is a vital natural resource. Species, other than human, depend on absence of human noise so that their vital communication links can function.


Writer Clive Thompson, reporting for Wired Magazine said that “We worry about the carbon emissions from SUVs and airplanes, maybe we should be equally concerned about the racket they cause.”


The conservation of quiet is just as important as other  forms of ecological conservation .  For the most part, this important idea is not being promoted to the public by respected conservation organizations or by our government agencies whose job it is to conserve public lands and the creatures that live there.  There is a general lack of sonic consciousness – a consciousness of the importance of quiet in Nature.


The US National Park Service (NPS) now has an extensive series of web pages on the effects of human noise in Nature.  While the web site is factual, the NPS does not walk their talk. They fail to set an example in their many campgrounds. They establish “quiet hours” at the campgrounds from 10 PM to 6 AM. But Nature does behave according to the NPS campground quiet hours. The big villain is RV generators. The rules permit RV generators to run from 6 AM to 10PM – some 16 hours a day. Nature’s communication system and other soundscapes run all day. NPS rules are meant only for the convenience of campers and not Nature’s creatures. Their soundscape web site reflects a total ignorance of the science of nature’s soundscape ecology. With some exceptions, you will find the same set of rules at the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service (USFS) campgrounds. These three governmental services are supposed to be protecting Nature, but exhibit ignorance when it comes to protecting Nature from human noise. Happily, however, there seems to be a growing sonic consciousness on the part of BLM with the offering of RV hookups at some of their campgrounds. At these campgrounds, RV generators are prohibited and a fee is charged for an RV hookup.


The insensitivity of the US government toward sonic conservation extends to campground hosts at these campgrounds. When RV generator noise gets unbearable at a campground, the hosts typical reply to someone who complains is that all campers must be considerate toward each other. The host then endeavors to reach a compromise. There is a total lack of sensitivity regarding the needs of the ecosystem. Only the needs of the humans is addressed in any discussions. The campground host seldom has a clue about  the impact of human sound on campground ecosystem.


When we visit Nature, we need to go quietly and leave things as we find them. We need to enter Nature with reverence — leaving behind our noisy dogs, ATVs, cell phones, and RV generators. We need to avoid chatter with our friends – instead listening to Nature’s chorus as it speaks.


Here are some references regarding soundscape ecology:


A Symphony of Sounds Worth Preserving


How Human Noise Ruins Parks for Animals and People


Animals to Humans: Be quiet


RV Generator Noise Breaks Connections in Nature


Does ambient noise affect growth and begging call structure in nesting birds?


Noise pollution alters ecological services: enhanced pollination and disrupted seed dispersal


A Not So Silent Spring – Conservation Magazine


A Not So Silent Spring – Atlantic Magazine


Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.


If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.


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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

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