Human noise pollution is disrupting parks and wild places

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A red fox listening for prey under the snow in Yellowstone National Park. Noise can affect foxes and other animals that rely on their hearing when they hunt.
Neal Herbert/NPS

Rachel Buxton, Colorado State University

As transportation networks expand and urban areas grow, noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places. Human-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people. It reduces the ability to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death for many animals, and degrade the calming effect that we feel when we spend time in wild places.

Protected areas in the United States, such as national parks and wildlife refuges, provide places for respite and recreation, and are essential for natural resource conservation. To understand how noise may be affecting these places, we need to measure all sounds and determine what fraction come from human activities.

In a recent study, our team used millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas. We found that noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.

Pine siskin song as a car passes by, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Recorded by Jacob Job, research associate with Colorado State University and the National Park Service, Author provided268 KB (download)

Our approach can help protected area managers enhance recreation opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural sounds and protect sensitive species. These acoustic resources are important for our physical and emotional well-being, and are beautiful. Like outstanding scenery, pristine soundscapes where people can escape the clamor of everyday life deserve protection.

What is noise pollution?

“Noise” is an unwanted or inappropriate sound. We focused on human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, noise pollution is noise that interferes with normal activities, such as sleeping and conversation, and disrupts or diminishes our quality of life.

Human-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities. For example, noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer. To understand noise sources in parks and inform management, the National Park Service has been monitoring sounds at hundreds of sites for the past two decades.

Estimating human-generated noise

Noise is hard to quantify at large-landscape scales because it can’t be measured by satellite or other visual observations. Instead researchers have to collect acoustic recordings over a wide area. NPS scientists on our team used acoustic measurements taken from 492 sites around the continental United States to build a sound model that quantified the acoustic environment.

National Park Service staff set up an acoustic recording station as a car passes on Going-to- the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.
National Park Service

They used algorithms to determine the relationship between sound measurements and dozens of geospatial features that can affect measured average sound levels. Examples include climate data, such as precipitation and wind speed; natural features, such as topography and vegetation cover; and human features, such as air traffic and proximity to roads.

Using these relationships, we predicted how much human-caused noise is added to natural sound levels across the continental United States.

To get an idea of the potential spatial extent of noise pollution effects, we summarized the amount of protected land experiencing human-produced noise three or 10 decibels above natural. These increments represent a doubling and a 10-fold increase, respectively, in sound energy, and a 50 to 90 percent reduction in the distance at which natural sounds can be heard. Based on a literature review, we found that these thresholds are known to impact human experience in parks and have a range of repercussions for wildlife.

Few escapes from noise

The good news is that in many cases, protected areas are quieter than surrounding lands. However, we found that human-caused noise doubled environmental sound in 63 percent of U.S. protected areas, and produced a tenfold or greater increase in 21 percent of protected areas.

Map of projected ambient sound levels for a typical summer day across the contiguous United States, where lighter yellow indicates louder conditions and darker blue indicates quieter conditions.
Rachel Buxton, Author provided

Noise depends on how a protected area is managed, where a site is located and what kinds of activities take place nearby. For example, we found that protected areas managed by local government had the most noise pollution, mainly because they were in or near large urban centers. The main noise sources were roads, aircraft, land-use conversion and resource extraction activities such as oil and gas production, mining and logging.

We were encouraged to find that wilderness areas – places that are preserved in their natural state, without roads or other development – were the quietest protected areas, with near-natural sound levels. However, we also found that 12 percent of wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy. Wilderness areas are managed to minimize human influence, so most noise sources come from outside their borders.

Finally, we found that many endangered species, particularly plants and invertebrates, experience high levels of noise pollution in their critical habitat – geographic areas that are essential for their survival. Examples include the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly, which is found only in Los Angeles County, California, and the Franciscan manzanita, a shrub that once was thought extinct, and is found only in the San Francisco Bay area.

Of course plants can’t hear, but many species with which they interact are affected by noise. For example, noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers. This means that noise can reduce the recruitment of seedlings.

F-4 fighter jets pass through ‘Star Wars Canyon’ in Death Valley National Park, a spot popular with military pilots.

Turning down the volume

Noise pollution is pervasive in many protected areas, but there are ways to reduce it. We have identified noisy areas that will quickly benefit from noise mitigation efforts, especially in habitats that support endangered species.

The ConversationStrategies to reduce noise include establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads. Our work provides insights for restoring natural acoustic environments, so that visitors can still enjoy the sounds of birdsong and wind through the trees.

Rachel Buxton, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Why you should never put a goldfish in a park pond … or down the toilet

Joy Becker, University of Sydney

Have you ever walked past a fountain in the park and seen beautifully coloured fish swimming about, and wondered how they got there? Often with the best of intentions, people leave unwanted pet fish in public fountains, ponds and natural waterways for a variety of reasons, including boredom with their pet, moving house, or frequent illness in their fish.

But these places are not a natural home for ornamental fish, and they can harm Australia’s unique ecosystems.

Fish are very popular pets, for good reason. They take up very little space or time and can add a calming presence to any living room. But fish come with the same responsibilities as any other pet. Much as (I hope) you wouldn’t turn a dog or cat loose to fend for itself in the local area, there is no place for pet fish in our waterways.

Alien fish species harm our ecosystems

Rehoming pet fish in natural waterways causes two big issues. The first is that most fish kept as pets are not naturally found in Australia, so releasing them means introducing an alien species into the wild.

These alien fish are pests and can outcompete native fish for shelter, food and other resources. Australia has 34 alien freshwater fish species living in the wild, two-thirds of which are ornamental fish such as goldfish, cichlids, guppies and gourami. Once an alien fish species becomes established, it is impossible to get rid of it.

Better left indoors: a dwarf gourami.
Jvarszegi/Wikimedia Commons

The second problem is the inadvertent release of exotic diseases. Australia imports 19 million ornamental fish every year – almost one per person! Your pet might appear healthy, but it can carry exotic bacteria and viruses.

When introduced to a new waterway, these pathogens can potentially wipe out entire populations of native fish. What’s more, many unique Australian fish such as Murray cod and Macquarie perch are particularly sensitive to exotic pathogens.

Unsurprisingly, Australia has strict import conditions for ornamental fish (and other pets too). However, there have been two key cases of exotic viruses hitchhiking with imported pet fish.

Goldfish get herpes too!

The first involves a disease called herpesviral haematopoietic necrosis, which affects only goldfish. It is caused by the virus Cyprinid herpesvirus 2 (CyHV2), first isolated in 1992 in Japan after a spate of goldfish deaths. Since then, CyHV2 has caused large goldfish kills in Taiwan, the United States and Britain, and it is now present in Australia. It is not known how long a goldfish can spread the virus once it becomes infected.

You never know what’s under the surface.
aussiegall/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Before 2010, CyHV2 was considered exotic to Australia and all imported goldfish were required to be certified as free of the virus. Despite this, in 2008 sick goldfish from several pet shops in Sydney tested positive for it. Pet shops stock a mix of imported and domestic fish, so the source of infection was unknown.

To try to trace the source of the virus, my colleagues and I have tested goldfish from farms across Australia and in wild populations. We found CyHV2 at two farms, one in Victoria and one in New South Wales. More importantly, the virus was found in wild goldfish collected from Cotter Reservoir, ACT, and the Ovens and Murray River in Victoria.

Our results confirmed that CyHV2 was present in both domestically farmed and wild goldfish populations. The virus is now considered an established pathogen in Australia, and in 2011 the Department of Agriculture dropped the requirement for goldfish to be certified free of CyHV2 before entering the country.

Goldfish were first introduced to Australia in 1876 and have long been established in all states except the Northern Territory. Although we can’t be sure when the introduction of CyHV2 occurred, it is assumed to have been within the past two decades.

Once established, pathogens like this are almost impossible to eradicate. The good news is that CyHV2 infects only goldfish, which is an alien species and is not vital to our ecosystems.

Lessons learned

The second case involves a pathogen called infectious spleen and necrosis virus (ISKNV). This belongs to a group of viruses called the megalocytiviruses, notorious for killing large numbers of fish farmed for human consumption as well as ornamental fish. ISKNV kills Murray cod, and our soon-to-be-published research suggests it can also cause disease in Macquarie perch and Golden perch.

Research has identified imported ornamental fish infected with ISKNV both before and after quarantine. Infected fish have also been found at pet shops and at a fish farm in Queensland. However, all the ornamental fish collected from the wild tested negative for the virus. From March 2016 onwards, regulations for imported fish have been tightened to clamp down on this virus.

ISKNV is still considered exotic to Australia. To protect Australia’s biodiversity and aquaculture industries, changes to importing ornamental fish were introduced from March 2016. This shows how, with the right monitoring, exotic pathogens can be spotted and dealt with before they become established in the wild.

Caring for your fish – and the environment

Like any pet, the decision to bring a pet fish home should be made with the care and thoughtful consideration that is owed to these beautiful creatures. If you can no longer care for your pet fish, the best choice is to find another living room for it to enjoy. Alternatively, you can take it to your veterinarian who can kill it humanely. If your fish has died, throw it in the rubbish bin, not down the toilet!

Ornamental fish are devastating to our natural waterways. Greater awareness of responsible pet fish ownership could have avoided alien species establishing themselves in the wild and prevented death and disease among Australia’s native fish.

The Conversation

Joy Becker, Senior Lecturer, Aquatic Animal Health and Production, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: Austria’s Green Lake

The link below is to an article on an amazing park in Austria that has to be seen to be believed. It’s amazing – and yes, the article has photos.

For more visit:

Article: Australia – Great Barrier Reef

Call for Marine Park Expansion

The following link is to an article reporting on calls for an expansion to the planned marine park in the Coral Sea. The planned marine park will protect an area of almost 1 million square kilometres, making it the world’s largest protected marine area.

For more visit:

NSW Road Trip 2010: A Few Thoughts From the Road

It is now day 5 of the road trip and I have already covered almost 3000km. As you can appreciate covering that amount of territory in 5 days doesn’t leave a lot of time to Blog, especially when I have been trying to keep the website updated as well.

See the NSW Road Trip 2010 website at:

What I thought I might do in this Blog is just pass on a few thoughts that have come to me while I have been driving around this great state of Australia – New South Wales. Let’s call this post, ‘A Few Thoughts From the Road.’

I have often thought that the governments of this country are wasting a great opportunity in promoting tourism in Australia. With such great distances to travel in Australia, wouldn’t it be great if the governments came up with an action plan to improve the rest areas throughout the country. Certainly some of them have been upgraded to a wonderful state – but then there is a lack of maintenance.

Many of the rest areas I have stopped at in the last few days have no facilities at all. Often they are nothing more than an overloaded garbage bin on the side of a road, with limited space in which to park.

To cut a long story short, I think Australia’s tourism industry would get a great shot in the arm if rest areas were improved across the country. It would also be good if hey could be located somewhere with a good view, an attraction, a small park for families, etc.

To go a step further (and this is perhaps pie in the sky), wouldn’t it also be great for the many Australians that drive throughout the country on camping/caravan holidays, if a percentage of these rest areas had some limited facilities for tents and caravans as well?

Perhaps a lot more people would travel around the country if such improved rest areas were created. There would also need to be some plan to keep the maintenance of these areas up to scratch also.

Another thing that militates against the travelling tourism that is fairly popular in Australia (it could be far greater), is the condition of many of the caravan parks across the country. To be sure, there are some excellent parks – but there are also a large number of parks that charge top dollar for run down facilities and grubby grounds. These poor operators need to lift their games to provide good facilities for their customers or they won’t get the return business that caravan parks depend upon. They need to spend a bit of money in order to make money.

I won’t return to a caravan park in which I had a bad experience – whether it be top dollar for run down facilities, poor service, poor attitudes of operators, etc. Some of these places just have no idea how to run a successful caravan park.

More thoughts to come – these will do for today.


The New South Wales government is now considering some level of development in the national parks of New South Wales. Just what level of development that may be is yet to be made clear. It is understood that the development may include accommodation projects, various commercial enterprises and guided bush walks.

Tourism Minster Jodi McKay, a former news reader with NBN television, is waiting on a report from a government commissioned taskforce looking into ways that tourism can be increased in the state’s national parks.

The planned tourism development of national parks is a major step away from the ‘wilderness’ goals of recent times and represents a threat to the wilderness values of national parks and world heritage listed areas.

However, a certain level of development may be appropriate, given the serious deterioration of many of the amenities and signage within New South Wales national parks. Many access routes are also seriously degraded following years of poor management.

Perhaps a quality New South Wales national parks and reserves web site could be developed, with the current web site being quite dated and not particularly useful for visitors to the national parks of New South Wales. Quality information on the attractions and access to each national park would greatly improve the tourist potential of New South Wales national parks.

If quality visitor brochures/leaflets on such things as camping facilities, access routes, walking trails and park attractions could be developed and made available via PDF documents on the web site, potential visitors could plan their trips and this would certainly increase visitor numbers to the national parks.

Quality content and relevant up-to-date information on each national park, as well as well maintained access routes and facilities would encourage far more people to visit the national parks and give visitors a memorable experience.

BELOW: Footage of the Warrumbungle National Park in NSW.