By Stephanie Rowe
The usual world is a constant raucous of noise.
We live undeniably, in a 24hr world, where the hustle and bustle of production and consumerism can all be heard competing in the quest for money making bliss. But in one of the most unprecedented events to occur worldwide, mother nature has pressed pause on the world’s sound system. The hum of traffic has slowed, whole industries have shut, and engines have been switched off. If you have been listening closely, you might just have heard that nature is coming back.
Deer have been spotted idly trotting through cities, pumas have been prancing across the streets of Santiago, hedgehogs have been crossing roads without their green cross code and birds have been singing… louder than ever.
While the effects of #lockdown have seen a reduction in the pollution that we traditionally think of (smog and smoke-filled cities), a lesser studied pollutant has also taken its foot off the gas. Noise pollution.
While also being associated with poor human health, noise pollution often overlaps with the frequency in which many animals interact at. And of course, communication in the wildlife kingdom is key to survival.
As the noise pollution that throws wildlife out of sync has come to a halt, some animals are reaping the benefits. A reduction in traffic is helping some mammals like badgers and hedgehogs. But perhaps one of the species relishing in the present serenity, is birds. They seem louder, don’t they? The reprieve of racket is assisting songbirds to project their song to potential mates and rivals. It’s good news for birds that nest close to the ground as well, with less disturbance from dogs in more peaceful parks, the chances of their nests being flushed is much reduced. The quieter beaches also suggest positive news for shore nesters.
This rare breath of quiet, is a crucial opportunity for researchers to further study the impacts of noise pollution on the world’s species. A recent study provided information that bat activity is decreased by two thirds due to vehicle noise. Bats use echolocation to locate their prey; an acoustic feature that is therefore somewhat at the mercy of noise pollution. Of course, its not just animals that suffer. While pollinators like bees and bats move away in a bid to avoid pollutant effects, some plant species are left to dwindle.
It’s not only terrestrial creatures who have taken their earplugs out. While wales have been found to alter their calls due to noise pollution and even call less, researchers have a clue that whales have been chatting more. A significant reduction in low frequency sound that is associated with ships has been detected by researchers studying underwater sound signals near Vancouver.
Previous research has shown links between chronic stress in Baleen wales in correlation with ship noise. It is somewhat telling, that the last time the world fell quiet enough for researchers to tune in to a more peaceful ocean to gain this insight, was during the aftermath of 9/11.
The short-term effects of lockdown on wildlife have been staggering. One reprieve of noise pollution is perhaps that unlike the chemicals and plastics, that linger as we pour them into our oceans, once the dial has been turned down the relief can be felt. This relief has been shown visibly in parts of India, where many have been able to see the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years due to a drop in pollution.
As with any issue where us humans have intertwined ourselves in the mess, there is always a fallout. Opportunists, those animals with a broad diet range and higher tolerances to noise and pollution (foxes and pigeons to name a few), may be left feeling confused by the current shift of events. They have adapted their behaviours in a proposal to live alongside us, only to have this curveball thrown at them.
Some urban Blackbirds have even developed shortened bills as a likely result of ease of food access in cities. Invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam, are reportedly growing at a faster rate as the vital volunteer and conservation networks that usually tackle these pests, are unable to manage areas. The crucial work of protecting and managing wildlife that conservationists do, could ultimately be affected as nature organisations and charities lose out of the much-needed funding they require to stay afloat.
Could this mean that short term gains in recovery give way to long term effects of worldwide economic devastation?
Around 55% if the world’s population now live in urban areas, a number that is only on the rise. As we struggle with the array of issues that overpopulation presents, the conflict between animals and human is sure to increase. We need more than ever, to find a better and more wholly inclusive way of living with animals, where humanity becomes interlaced with nature.
Perhaps this period of lockdown is a call to establish wildlife and nature as a central point of all our lives. While nature has provided many of us with its timeless comfort during mentally challenging times, it is time to consider environmental protection and nature itself with the upmost importance.