The sound that kills

Published On: September 30, 2018 01:00 AM NPT By: Sabita Nakarmi

Sabita Nakarmi

Sabita Nakarmi

(The author is a section officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal)

Only 400 North Atlantic right whales exist in the world. This is due to the noise caused by shipping and other human activities in the ocean

Can you believe that sound can kill life at times if it is unwanted, shrill, excessive and harmful while sonorous sound usually signifies life, vigor and liveliness?

When I first heard my little one’s heartbeat via sonogram, my happiness knew no bounds—that sound ascertained life growing within me. When a newborn cries first at her arrival on earth, every mom’s heart bubbles with joy and fills eyes with tears of happiness. Child’s giggle, babble, coos, sobbing, screams, laughter all forms of warm sound reinforces delight in all mothers. In a way, sound survives and sustains life, sometimes even by bringing back life when a mother struggles for her last breath.

Not only in mother-child relationship, but in all arenas, sound represents life, love, closeness and bonding. Human beings as social creatures flourish when they get peers to speak up their mind with. Old people find solace when other people speak a few words to them. Talking therapy (sound) is a technique to treat depression. Sound, when turned into music, becomes medicine of all ailing since music has no language, but is amusement to the people of all languages.

Besides, mesmerizing sound in nature—chirping birds, songs of nightingales, rushing of fountains, whistles of breeze, sounds of ripples and waves in oceans—adds to vibrancy and momentum in life. Even mechanical sounds like alarm in the clock, sensor in cars, beeps for time limit, sirens of emergency, doorbells, bells in temples and also school-bells tend to be our friends by cautioning us to be on time. For me, purposely remaining silent for a time being is acceptable, but dead silence is unpleasant and deafening.

Killer noise 

My beautiful perspective on sound was contradicted when I attended a session at the United Nations on “anthropogenic underwater noise” that discussed how the excessive production of harmful sound under water can kill the marine species and severely affect the global ecosystem. While the sonorous sound fills life with colors, the harsh and callous noise turns out to be life-threatening.

In fact, the rapid proliferation of globalization, urbanization and industrialization has challenged the process of maintaining balance between the nature and the nurture. The natural resources are carelessly exploited for the sake of materialistic prosperity. Buildings and industries replace the trees and greenery, dust and smoke substitute fresh air and pristine nature and insinuating noise supersedes the melody of life causing a great threat to health and environment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes noise as a principal environmental nuisance in industrial nations. Noise as a stressor affects people in various ways relating to hearing impairment, nervous system, psyche, communication, sleep and performance, even causing cardiovascular diseases resulting as hypertension and others.

I was particularly taken aback by anthropogenic underwater noise that can take life of marine species. The AUN is intentional or unintentional noise in oceans and seas produced by various sources such as shipping, seismic surveys, air guns, explosions, industrial activities, sonar, military testing, drilling and dredging, navigation, scientific research, energy exploration and maritime security. 

Not all sorts of sound introduced into the ocean environment by humans have deleterious effects on marine life. But the anthropogenic noise affects specific marine species including fish and migratory species as well as marine ecosystems by negatively changing species’ behavior and migratory routes, disrupting communication, displacing animals from feeding and breeding grounds, and also possibly causing stress, injury and death. The increasing number of shipping, sonar and air guns causes deficiency in communication, ultimately affecting mating and breeding of marine species. An example of noise as stressor killing whales can be proved through the fact that only 400 North Atlantic right whales exist now in the world. This decreasing number is due to the noise caused by shipping and other human activities in the ocean. 

From socioeconomic point of view, when the fisheries and ecosystem are affected, sustainability of fishes declines resulting its cumulative effects on tourism, fishing, transportation, livelihood and food security.

Fighting noise 

This strangely alarming situation of depletion on marine environment due to noise pollution needs to be addressed through the collaborative efforts of all states, big and small, coastal and landlocked like Nepal. The noise mitigation technology, introduction of “quiet ships” and improvements in shipping industry can be some of national agendas of coastal states to resolve the underwater noise pollution.

Although Nepal is a least developed, mountainous and landlocked country having no sea-coasts, our trade and transit depend on our neighboring coastal states. At the same time, our mountain ecosystem is interconnected with the marine ecosystem. The glacier melting in the Himalayas of Nepal will affect the sea-level rise in neighboring countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives and so on. So, collective efforts from governments, inter-governmental organization, non-governmental organization, local community, academia and all stakeholders are necessary to protect the marine vis-à-vis global environment. Nepal’s solidarity with coastal and island states to combat the effects of man-made pollution including underwater noise, marine debris, climate signifies Nepal’s commitment with all in achieving the common goal of leaving no one behind. 

Since natural resources sustain our life, it is our shared responsibility to sustainably use and conserve them. A little bit of more collective concern, attention and effort toward preserving nature, mother Ocean and global ecosystem will help maintain sound as sonorous, melodious and life-sustaining source that I adore rather than life-threatening noise.

The author is Section Officer at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal 

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