The Sound of One Fin Flapping

Environmental Commentary by Liza Field

Up here in rural Virginia, the mountains and fields are full of music.

Loud bees drone. Thrushes warble music through the woods. Cow voices honk. Everyone is communicating.

But a much louder sound will mum these voices. Birds will go silent, cows run downhill, human hands clap over ears—as fighter craft storm through.

They arrive from a military base across the state line, swooping through these mountains for practice. Why here?

Urban areas, full of big buildings, look populated. Important officials and voters would never put up with such daily stormings.

But seen from above, these old mountains resemble a greeny-blue blur, an unpopulated sea—nothing significant, below, to worry about.

This aggravating situation is a microcosm. It describes our noisy world, today, and our epidemic deafness.

Despite the huge noise levels we produce, we can’t hear much. Each predicament feeds the other.

Buzz your average loud riding mower around the yard, earbuds amped-up to detect some tunes above the roar.

That mowing job will cost a chunk of hearing-change for you, the neighbors, dogs and birds—as will the weed-whacker, leaf/snow blower, chainsaw, tiller, driller, ATV, jet ski, speedboat and Harley.

Inside homes, meanwhile, more hearing will erode via hair dryers, blenders, coffee-grinders, eggbeaters, shavers, vacuums, ear-buds and booming stereo.

Americans pay big bucks for the toys, tools and petroleum to create all this racket.

But we pay far more with our hearing, chronically damaged by the din. Once that rare knowledge-portal is gone, no 5,000-buck hearing aid can restore it.

Acquired hearing loss is rising among teens, children, even newborns. The same noise that erodes hearing can even spur preterm deliveries.

That’s because loud sounds trigger the body’s primeval alarm system—along with all the confusion, hypertension, heart disease, insomnia, even birth defects induced by chronic stress.

We animals are wired biologically to heed sound signals from our environment. We survived the eons by listening to our world—not ignoring it.

This takes us to the sea, where seismic blasting is being considered for Atlantic coastal waters from Florida to Delaware.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is reviewing nine oil company applications to begin these booming petroleum surveys.

Seismic testing involves air-cannon blasts, repeated every 10 seconds, howitzer-loud. Each blast penetrates ocean depths and the seabed, then boomerangs back up to ships with the messages companies want.

But there’s more than oil industry goals to listen for in coastal waters.

Seismic blasting traumatizes myriad marine species. It alarms fish away from their usual habitats, besides damaging the hearing of whales, dolphins and endangered sea turtles.

British research has found that noise merely from boats causes myriad survival dangers to the common shore crab. And after seismic testing off its own coast, Australia saw its valuable scallop harvest drop 80 percent.

Will shellfish decline similarly in the Chesapeake?

In March, 75 marine scientists from numerous universities and research groups wrote President Obama a letter objecting to seismic testing’s “potentially massive impacts on fish populations.”

Other opponents include the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Sierra Club, Oceana, the state of Florida, myriad coastal communities and 27 Congressmen from Atlantic states.

The bureau has already approved Atlantic seismic testing in general.

But in February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced plans to expand critical habitat area for the world’s last 450 North Atlantic right whales.

Stretching from Cape Fear, NC, to Georgia, with another proposed area off the New England coast, the expansion would mean NOAA would have to approve any seismic surveys in those areas.

The American Petroleum Institute states that seismic testing actually doesn’t bother marine species. That’s because (they explain) it does. Hunh?

The initial blasts, the industry group’s website points out, cause “animals that may be sensitive to this sound to leave the area.” Blasting can’t harm what it’s already driven away.

Well here is noise—the same ear-deadening PR that fills airwaves today under the guise of science.

Because no sane person wants to drive whales extinct, this PR has to distract the public with noise loud enough to drown out what the planet would tell us.

Has it worked?

Do a sonogram on your own heart, down in the sea of yourself, and see if you hear a response.

Liza Field is a teacher and conservationist in Southwest Virginia. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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