Posted by: chrismaser | April 30, 2012


Once upon a time, silence could be found throughout much of the world. I remember silence so deep on a still day in the high-mountain snows of winter that I could feel it and hear it. And, I remember the silence a the dawning of a new day draped over the western desert of Egypt, before the waves of heat reflecting off the sand began to make the horizon shimmer. Today, however, silence is a rare and elusive part of the commons—from the highest mountain to the depths of the deepest ocean.

When I first built my garden pond, one of the primary joys was the music of the water falling over the little rock wall I had made for it. The waterfall sang freely in those early days, and my wife, Zane, and I could hear its song from every corner of the garden in the back of our house. In fact, we would open our bedroom window at night and listen to the water sing. There are no words to describe the inner feeling of peace and well-being conveyed by the love song of the waterfall.

We humans live in the “invisible present,” wherein things change so slowly that we don’t notice the tiny, cumulative effects of their continual transformation. Although I knew this phenomenon and had written about it in other books, I did not realize that we were once again to experience the creeping invisibility of daily change.

The change of which I am speaking began with the background noise of increasing traffic as the town grew. With the prosperity of the 1990s, home-improvement projects seemed to spring up everywhere, adding to the din. Then came the insidious leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and finally a fleet of helicopters, which were headquartered at our local airport and flew incessantly in the vicinity of our house. As noise was added to noise, it became harder and harder to hear the waterfall.

We first noticed that the waterfall’s song could not be heard when we opened the bedroom window and, listening, failed to detect the splashing water. Next, the outer corners of the garden became devoid of its song. Over time, we had to get closer and closer to the pond in order to hear the music. Then came the time we could barely hear it when we sat on our bench, a scant eight to ten feet away. Finally, the urban noises penetrating our garden became so intrusive that even when we stood next to it, we could no longer hear the waterfall.

When the voice of the waterfall was drowned out by the ever-increasing noise pollution, some of the spiritual essence disappeared from the pond. In the end, therefore, I removed the waterfall rather than have its inaudible presence be a constant reminder of the waning quality of life that daily besets us.

Noise pollution is one of society’s growing concerns because it increasingly affects the quality of everyday living—especially if one lives in the flight path of an airport; within a few miles of a railroad crossing; next to an increasingly busy street; near an athletic field, a university fraternity, or ongoing construction. And there seem to be few places one can escape from it.

In fact, noise is shifting the population dynamics of terrestrial animals—with some moving toward noise, presumably to avoid predators, and others moving away from increasing noise. Simply put, the growing noise of human activities is progressively sifting the composition, structure, and function of ecological systems.1

Moreover, the world has gotten so noisy even beneath the ocean, the same types of shifts are taking place, but for different reasons. Simply put, the ability of many sea creatures to seek food, find mates, protect their young, use their habitual routs of migration safely, and escape their predators is increasingly and severely compromised. The effects of underwater noise can be likened to being trapped in the center of an acoustic traffic jam, where the din comes simultaneously from all sides. In deep water, where marine animals rely on their sense of hearing, the noise is especially harmful. For example, high intensity anthropogenic sound damages the ears of fish.2

Noise from supertankers and military sonar equipment, as well as from the explosions of seismic exploration for offshore oil, scrambles the communication signals used by dolphins and whales, which causes them to abandon traditional feeding areas and breeding grounds, change direction during migration, and alter their calls. They also blunder into fishing nets. In fact, the global unintentional catch—“bycatch,” in today’s euphemistic vernacular—of marine mammals is hundreds of thousands and is likely to have significant demographic effects on many populations. In addition, dolphins and whales can no longer avoid colliding with ships on the open seas, where international shipping produces the most underwater noise pollution, with few regulations to control it. And the U.S. military acts as though controls to any of its chosen activities are not only beneath it but also of no biophysical consequence as far as sea creatures are concerned.3

Oceans in Crisis:

• Meeting The Ocean

• Resource Overexploitation

• Acidification

• Overfishing

• Marine Protected Areas

• Chemical Pollution

• Human Garbage

• Temperature

• Lessons We Need to Learn For the Sake of All Generations

Related Posts:

• Principle 1: Everything is a relationship

• Principle 4: All systems are defined by their function

• Principle 6: All relationships are self-reinforcing feedback loops

• Principle 7: All relationships have one or more

• Principle 9: All relationships are irreversible

• Principle 11: All systems have cumulative effects, lag periods, and           thresholds


1. Clinton D. Francis, Nathan J. Kleist, Catherine P Ortega, and Alexander Cruz. Noise Pollution Alters Ecological Services: Enhanced Pollination And Disrupted Seed Dispersal. Proceedings of the Royal Society B

2. R. D. McCauley, J. Fewtrell, and A. N. Popper. High Intensity Anthropogenic Sound Damages Fish Ears. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 113 (2003):638–642.

3. This paragraph is based on: (1) P. J. Bryant, C. M. Lafferty, and S. K. Lafferty. Reoccupation of Laguna Guerrero Negro Baja California, Mexico, by Gray Whales. Pp. 375–386. In: The Gray Whale Eschrictius robustus. M. L. Jones, S. L. Swartz, and S. Leatherwood (editors). Academic Press, Orlando, FL. 1984; (2) M. Andre, C. Kamminga, and D. Ketten. Are Low-Frequency Sounds a Marine Hazard: A Case Study in the Canary Islands. Underwater Bio-sonar and Bioacoustics Symposium, Loughborough University, UK, December 16–17, 1997; (3) A. B. Morton and H. K. Symonds. Displacement of Orcinus orca (L.) by high amplitude sound in British Columbia. Journal of Marine Science 59 (2002):71–80; (4) P.J.O. Miller, N. Biasson, A. Samuels, and P. L. Tyack. Whale Songs Lengthen in Response to Sonar. Nature 405 (2000):903; (5) K. C. Balcomb and D. E. Claridge. A Mass Stranding of Cetaceans Caused by Naval Sonar in the Bahamas. Bahamas Journal of Science 8 (2001):1–12; (6) Andrew J. Read, Phebe Drinker, and Simon Northridge. Bycatch of Marine Mammals in U.S. and Global Fisheries. Conservation Biology 20 (2006):163–169; and (7) Lars Bejder, Amy Samuels, Hal Whitehead, and others. Decline in Relative Abundance of Bottlenose Dolphins Exposed to Long-Term Disturbance. Conservation Biology 20 (2006):1791–1798.

Text © by Chris Maser 2012. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.


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