Orlando Mason, Australian Representative, Quiet Parks International
Quiet Parks International is a non-profit organisation that strives to preserve natural quietness for the benefit of natural ecosystems and humans’ mental health in a world where industrialisation and noise pollution is ever-growing.
What is a Quiet Park?
A quiet park is defined by low levels of human-made ‘noise disturbances’, where natural ambience is predominantly heard. There are ‘wilderness quiet parks’ and ‘urban quiet parks’, found away from cities and amongst urbanised environments respectively. I make measurements of the audio levels using a spectrogram, which visually represents the soundscape. I record at least 15 minute intervals at different times of the day and areas around the park to detect noise interference from traffic, rail, aircraft and other human-made sounds. The general ambience shouldn’t exceed 45dB and no more than 8 short noise disturbances per hour, which can’t exceed 65db. Spectrograms are also used in ecology to take wildlife population counts.
Here’s a picture I found on Australian Acoustic Observatory’s website showing a similarity in astronomy and audio ecology for collecting data.
Audio is a useful way to measure population counts and mapping migratory behaviour in animals such as bats, birds, insects, dolphins and whales. Audio ecology plays a big part in conservation because if there’s too much industrialisation around these habitats they lose their sonic integrity. An abundant and diverse audio ecology reflects a healthy natural environment while car engines and planes flying overhead make it harder for animals that use sound as a means for communication or hunting. In their mission description, Quiet Parks International (QPI) aims to “save quiet for the benefit of all life”.
My QPI assessment of Arakwal National Park, Byron Bay
Arakwal National Park is on the south side of Australia’s easternmost point, Byron Bay lighthouse. It’s only 10-15 minutes from central Byron Bay yet it feels like wilderness, with the only visible human activity being the walking tracks and the people on them. From the park, the only visible building is the lighthouse on the distant headland. It is home to many birds, frogs, echidna, wallabies, sea life and bush tucker plants so it has been a popular spot for local Arakwal people to find food for a long time.
There is a road on one side with noisy traffic and a beach on the other with crashing waves but following the paths only 3 meters over the dunes and into the banksia scrub brings a still and quiet serenity that is noticeable immediately. I used the app SpectrumView to monitor the decibel levels in the park and make spectrographs of 15 minute intervals. During my time there, sound levels didn’t go above 45dB and the very occasional sound disturbance of a small plane flying overhead would occur less than 1 per hour on average and not reach 65dB. Birdsong is the predominate sound in most of the park.
The construction of a water treatment facility is currently underway at the Southern end but this is unnoticeable in most areas and while walking across the central footbridge. I have visited various sites in the park during the middle of the day and night as well as the evening and dawn. I’ve been there through Summer, Autumn and now Winter. I imagine the main difference in Spring will be more birdsong since every other time I’ve been there has been an abundance of birdlife and I often spot a different species when I go there. It’s amazing how such a quiet natural sanctuary with this much wildlife can exist so close to a town centre.
To find out more visit https://www.quietparks.org
Share your own quiet park experience at #savequiet