Man’s great cacophony: Noise pollution hurts Singapore wildlife


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Figure 1: Cars in Singapore (Sudeshna, 2020)

Despite its claim to be a city in a garden, Singapore experiences massive amounts of man-made noise pollution.

Although the National Environmental agency (NEA) has placed some restraints on the issue (Noise Pollution Overview, 2020), the amount of noise pollution that residents experience is still greater than that which they are willing to accept. The Chief Executive of NEA reported that in 2018, it received an average of 25 construction-noise related complaints a day (Noise Pollution in Singapore, 2021).

Noise pollution is linked to the economic development of Singapore. According to NEA, the major sources of noise pollution are construction, industrial activities and vehicles (Noise Pollution Overview, 2020).

This noise pollution has negative effects on human health, disturbing our sleep, and in severe cases causing tinnitus (ringing sound in ears) or paracusis (distorted hearing) and potentially raising our blood pressure (Millar, 2020). However, it is not humans alone who suffer terribly from this phenomenon but also the animals in our surroundings.

How noise pollution hurts biodiversity

Animals often feel great distress upon exposure to noise, resulting in issues with fertility and changes in migration patterns. Worsening the situation is the fact that marine life will suffer when extreme underwater noise vibrations damage their swim bladders, impacting their hearing and buoyancy and leading to their death (Dunn and Clark, 2022). Furthermore, animals that rely on sound to communicate are impaired in their search for mates or prey and are forced to adapt to the noise pollution (Shannon, 2022), while marine animals that use vibrations in the water to navigate can have their movements disrupted and die from being stranded (Jasny, 2014).

What about Singapore then? Apart from the extrapolation that the animals here suffer the same effects as those in the aforementioned studies and the fact that Singapore is very noisy, we can observe that animals in Singapore are often forced to take up louder calls to get over the noise, as evidenced by how loud bird songs are in urban parts of the country to the point of being a nuisance (Choo, 2018). 

Figure 2: Noisy road home to birds (original picture)
Figure 3: Tourist zone birds (Original photo)

The local wildlife is a key element of Singapore’s identity, from the ubiquitous mynah birds and the famous koel call to the adorable otters of the Singapore river. To local researchers, otters are an important yardstick to measure the cleanliness of the waterways. Currently, they are the only animals except for a few crocodiles in the swamps and the monitor lizards (also restricted to a few wetland areas) that serve in the niche of ‘apex predators’, and their absence would result in the overpopulation of fish. Overpopulation may lead to ecological bottlenecks, leading to cases where large amounts of dead fish will suddenly appear. Noise pollution can be fatal to otters, as otters are intelligent and social animals and communicate by making sounds. The noise pollution may drown out their calls, affecting the mortality rates of the otters by lessening their ability to find prey as well as affecting the way the otters interact, which may negatively impact their ability to mate and cause their birth rate to plummet. If we lose these animals because we do not care enough to protect them, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Solutions

There are a variety of methods to minimise urban noise pollution, and all of the methods will require our combined efforts to succeed.

First, make the decision to take public transport to help reduce noise pollution. Cars, especially in large numbers in urban settings, produce a high level of noise. Even electric vehicles cannot resolve noise created by friction between the road and tyres, which is the major source of noise from passenger vehicles (Noel, 2021). Furthermore, there will inevitably be some honking when people drive. Poor maintenance, overloaded vehicles or steep inclines also increase noise. As such, increased use of public transport can is able to take multiple vehicles off the roads and bring about a reduction in the overall noise level. Other public transport options such as trains, with electric transmission and underground operations, generate barely any noise pollution. The government can also play a part by improving roads and building sound-dampening barriers to reduce the noise pollution from traffic.

Another thing we can do is to engage in responsible eco-tourism. One example of the government’s commitment to allowing human-wildlife coexistence is the building of the Eco-links at Bukit Timah and Mandai to keep animals off the road. In the same vein, we too should minimise the amount of noise we create when venturing into natural habitats, unlike the individuals who were caught blasting music at Macritchie Reservoir (Chronicles, 2020). According to Dr Ho Hua Chew, the vice-president of the Nature Society Singapore, when exploring areas where wildlife thrives, individuals should seek to move in small groups to minimise the noise they create (Low, 2021)

Lastly, the government should ensure that construction, a major factor in the creation of noise pollution (Noise, 2021), is conducted in a way that minimises its impact on noise level near places inhabited by wildlife.

With these solutions, we can do justice to the animals we share our nation with. Only then can we say that we are a city in a garden.

References

Choo, Cynthia. “’Cacophony’ of Mynah Birds a Headache for Some Potong Pasir Residents.” TODAY, 10 Aug. 2018, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/cacophony-mynah-birds-headache-some-potong-pasir-residents

Chronicles, Nomad. Noise Pollution Generates Concerns for Wildlife in the Edge. National University of Singapore, 22 Sept. 2020, https://blog.nus.edu.sg/nomadchronicles/2020/09/22/noise-pollution-generates-concerns-for-wildlife-in-the-edge/

Dunn, Jacob, and Fay Clark. Noise Pollution Is Hurting Animals, and We Don’t Even Know How Much, Phys.org, 23 Aug. 2022, phys.org/news/2022-08-noise-pollution-animals-dont.html

Jasny, Michael. “New Whale Stranding Is Painful Evidence for Naval Sonar Risks (Op-Ed).” LiveScience, Natural Resources Defense Council, 3 Apr. 2014, https://www.livescience.com/44598-new-whale-stranding-from-sonar.html.

Low, Youjin. As Clementi Forest Grows in Popularity, Conservationists Caution of Impact on Environment. TODAY, 7 Jan. 2021, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/clementi-forest-grows-popularity-conservationists-caution-impact-environment

Millar, Helen. “Noise Pollution Health Effects: Impact on Mental and Physical Health.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 21 Dec. 2020, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/noise-pollution-health-effects#physical-health

“Noise Pollution in Singapore – Why Construction Noise Is Becoming a Public Concern.” Denyo United Machinery Pte Ltd, 17 Aug. 2021, sg.denyogroup.com/news-stories/post/why-construction-noise-is-becoming-a-public-concern

“Noise Pollution Overview.” National Environment Agency, 20 Feb. 2022 www.nea.gov.sg/our-services/pollution-control/noise-pollution/overview

Noel, Scott R. “Will electric cars result in quieter communities?” HMMH, 11 May. 2021, https://hmmh.com/resources/news-insights/blog/will-electric-cars-result-in-quieter-communities/

Shannon, Graeme. “How Noise Pollution Is Changing Animal Behaviour.” The Conversation, 13 Sept. 2022,  theconversation.com/how-noise-pollution-is-changing-animal-behaviour-52339

Sudeshna. “Roads in Singapore to Avoid during the Peak Hour Rush: Articles: Motorist Singapore.” Motorist.sg, 18 May 2020, https://www.motorist.sg/article/434/roads-in-singapore-to-avoid-during-the-peak-hour-rush

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