Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cocktail Party In The Ocean

Our planet is getting noisier by the day.

Everyday, we are blasted by human- or machine-created sound that disturbs the much needed tranquility for human and animals.

The etymology of the word 'noise' is 'nausea' meaning 'seasickness' in Latin, suggesting that noise makes you sick. Its root could also possibly be traced from another Latin word 'noxia' which brings the meaning closer to 'hurting, injury and damage'.

The origin the word seems to suggest: Noise is not good. Indeed.

Of all the contributors, noise pollution from motor vehicles tops my hate list. I am rather sensitive to sudden surge of loud noise and tend to be affected by protracted drowning in noise.

In a dense city like Singapore, buildings are shooting higher to accommodate the bigger population. There is a general preference to live on higher floors presumably to enjoy the panoramic view from a greater height.

The problem is that, noise is known to travel upwards and this means dwellers on higher floors tend to receive a collection of noise from the surrounding areas. The constant humming noise from the ground level can, over a prolonged period, damage physiological and psychological health.

Noise pollution affects the human beings as well as animals, who are usually more sensitive to sound than us. Noise pollution affects animals on land as well as those in the sea.

The ocean is big and yet the sea creatures are not spared from noise pollution. They are constantly drown in noise pollution which disrupts their normal communication.

Roaring engine noise from commercial shipping constantly breaks the serenity of the ocean. Military sonar is another main cause for noise pollution in the ocean where sound is used to communicate and detect vessels.

When noise level increases in the ocean, the sea animals would need to 'raise their voice' to 'talk'. Think of it like you are in a noisy party and you try to talk louder so that you can be heard. When everyone does that, the noise level will eventually be so high that no-one can hear each other anymore.

Scientists have noticed that whales 'talk' louder in the presence of submarine detector which uses sound. These whales need to raise their voice so that they can continue to communicate with the other whales.

When one species speaks louder, it will mask the the other species' voice, causing the whole eco-system to eventually speak louder too.

Imagine this: Sea creatures in the ocean are constantly living is a noisy underwater cocktail party and they have no where else to go!

There has been a growing number of stranding of whales and dolphins and scientists believe that it could be linked to sound pollution. In some cases, damaged tissues were found on these sea mammals which are caused when they surface too quickly. They could have been startled by military sonar or seismic testing and surfaced beyond what they can physically manage.

In a study, it was found that the distance over which blue whales can communicate has been cut by 90% as a result of higher noise levels over the last 40 years. Put this in our lingo, the whales are getting deafer!

It is less apparent to us when the ocean is suffering from noise pollution. Unfortunately, the ocean community is part of the entire eco-system on the planet. Noise can have a detrimental effect on animals causing them to suffer in many ways.

They stand to lose the delicate balance in predator/prey detection and avoidance and that in turn leads to disturbance of the food chain.

Noise pollution also gets in the way in animal communication and causing interference in reproduction and navigation. Animals also get stressed and thus increasing the risk of mortality.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is an inter-government treaty. It was concluded under a United Nation program and it is concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale.

There are now more than 100 representatives from Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Europe with the CMS. Incidentally, Singapore is not part of it (yet?).

The CMS is considering issuing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution. It is probably not so easy to remove or reduce the sources of noise pollution in the ocean within a short time. However, this is a good start, nonetheless.

I hope nothing has become irreversible.

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