By AARON KIPNIS
We all hear planes over head, chainsaws in the woods, leaf blowers in the yard and construction noise at times. These normal sounds of contemporary life might be annoying if we are having a quiet moment, listening to the birds or trying to take a nap.
But then it stops. Nights are quieter. Someone’s music at a party is loud, but then it stops. We may hear a freighter pass in the channel, but then it stops. This is life. But freighters at anchorage just off shore make noise all night and all day long. It does not stop.
Diesel generators reverberating through cavernous steel hulls generate grating, incessant noise for days, weeks, even a month before they move on and then . . . the next ship arrives. Some crews do loud maintenance late at night. Ships frequently drop anchor well past midnight with a thunderous cacophony of huge anchor chains disrupting sleep. Some people may think increasing industrial noise in coastal residential areas is just inevitable change we have to learn to live with. However, these loud engines running 24/7 can have dramatic impacts on human and animal health. We just can’t live with that.
Numerous studies document negative effects of human-generated noise on dolphins, crabs, oysters and whales, to name just a few. Stressed invertebrates clamp their shells shut and feed less while whales make louder vocalizations to communicate and can become disoriented. Sea and shore birds can also be affected. Traumatic impacts of freighter-generated noise echo through the entire ecosystem. As for us humans on shore, the unremitting, throbbing growl of anchored freighters, combined with the sleep disruptions they cause can raise blood pressure, cortisol (stress hormone) and glucose. Sustained low frequency noise can even cause heart irregularities and higher incidents of stroke, along with increased depression and anxiety levels — our quiet, peaceful paradise lost.
Not everyone is sensitive to unceasing noise, but those of us who are and live near shore are suffering along with the marine animals from the growing numbers of large ships anchoring here. The Port of Vancouver could, however, incorporate an early arrival system to keep these international ships, whose noise levels are completely unregulated, in port where they belong. Of course these ships also foul our water and air while destroying seabed habitats with anchor chains. An oil spill seems inevitable. These are topics for another time.
Please see protect-the-islands-sea.org for for more information about the Gulf Islands’ freighter invasion.
The writer is a professor emeritus of clinical psychology, author and a psychotherapist in private practice on Salt Spring Island.