Noise pollution is a harmful or annoying level of noise. It is any unwanted or disturbing sound. Noise pollution affects millions of people daily. The effects of noise pollution on plants and animals are both problematic likewise. It causes health problems for both humans and wildlife. Noise pollution includes the loud sounds emanating from rock concerts, traffic, machinery, etc. These loud noises can cause hearing loss, stress, and high blood pressure.
Noise pollution is an invisible threat. We measure sound in decibels. Sounds that go beyond 85 decibels can damage a person’s ears. Many familiar, everyday things exceed this level. They include:
The most common effect of noise pollution in humans is noise-induced hearing loss. Noise pollution can even cause sleep disturbances. These health problems associated with noise affect all age groups, especially children. Researchers found that children living in noisy areas suffer from memory impairments, reduced attention level, reading skills, and stress.
Noise pollution also affects wildlife. In this article, we’ll learn about the effects of noise pollution on plants and animals.
Effects on Animals
Noise pollution affects the health and well-being of animals too. Numerous studies have shown that loud noise causes a caterpillar’s heart to beat faster. Blaring sounds also cause some birds to have fewer chicks. Noise pollution interferes with their navigation, disrupting their search for food and leading them to starve. Aside from navigation, animals also use sound to attract mates and avoid predators. Loud noises make it difficult for them to accomplish these tasks. Noise, therefore, interferes with an animal’s ability to survive.
Noise does not only affect animals on land. Even animals under the sea face a number of challenges caused by noise pollution. Marine environments were once tranquil. But ships, oil drills, seismic tests, and sonar devices have now made them noisy and chaotic. Animals like whales and dolphins rely on echolocation to find food, navigate the waters, and find mates. Noise pollution interferes with echolocation. Noise interferes with the ability of these animals to locate themselves and other objects and species effectively.
Naval sonar devices produce one of the loudest underwater noises. Sonar works similar to echolocation. It sends out a pulse of sound into the water. The sound travels bounces off objects and sends an echo back to the ship. The returning sound indicates the locations of those objects. Sonar sounds can travel hundreds of meters underwater before reaching an object. The sound can be as loud as 235 decibels. It interferes with a whale’s or dolphin’s ability to echolocate. Research has shown that sonar causes the mass stranding of whales on beaches. It can even alter the feeding behavior of blue whales, an endangered species. Environmental groups are asking the militaries of countries to stop using sonar devices for training purposes.
Ships exploring deep sea oil sites send blasts of sound into the ocean and toward the seafloor. The sound blasts can cause severe damage and injury to the ears of marine animals.
Effects on Plants
A 2021 study showed how the effects of noise pollution on animals could trickle down to plants. Noise pollution can alter entire habitats and ecosystems. In 2007, in New Mexico, researchers studied tree populations that were exposed to loud artificial noise from nearby natural gas wells. They mainly looked at two species of trees – pine and juniper and found noise pollution from the wells disrupted seedling dissemination and germination of the pines and junipers. They linked this to the noise driving away jays, a bird species. The jays were responsible for dispersing the seeds of the pine trees. But noise caused the jays to avoid the area. Therefore, researchers found 75% fewer pine seedlings in noisy sites than in quiet ones.
Twelve years later, in 2019, researchers returned back to assess the long-term impacts of noise on the trees. Some of the natural gas wells and other industries had shifted from their original sites. They still found that the pine and juniper trees were less in abundance in noisy areas. However, they also discovered that sites that were previously noisy but had now turned quiet had more saplings of juniper than of pine.
These findings showed that mice and other small mammals that disperse the seeds of juniper trees returned, but the jays did not. Birds like the jays are susceptible to noise. Once exposed to noise in a particular area, they learn to avoid it. They have an episodic memory and remember not to go back to a place that negatively affected them.
How Can You Reduce Noise Pollution?
To reduce noise pollution coming from construction sites and industries, we need new technology to develop quieter machinery. But at an individual level, we can all do something to ensure that wildlife isn’t affected by noise. These include:
1. Turning off appliances at home and in the office
Turn off your TV, fan, and computer when you’re not using it. It can unnecessarily stress your ears. On the plus side, turning off your appliances also means lower energy bills.
2. Operate noisy machines in a closed room
Shut the door when you turn on the dishwasher or washing machine. Designate a specific area in your home to operate these machines. The area should be away from rooms you and your family frequent.
3. Raise awareness
Demand that our governments develop policies to create silent zones around schools, hospitals, and forests. Most countries have noise regulations, but these aren’t properly enforced. Raise public awareness and demand for the strict enforcement of rules dealing with noise pollution.
4. Plant trees
Trees act as a noise barrier. They absorb noise. According to studies, trees reduce noise levels by 5 to 10 decibels. With all these small but highly impactful steps, we can reduce the effects of noise pollution on plants and animals.
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