Musician and naturalist Bernie Krause has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species in many of the world’s pristine habitats. Photograph: Courtesy of Hachette Book Group John Vidal, environment editor Monday 3 September 2012 08.00 BST Last modified on Wednesday 21 May 2014 08.11 BST Share on Pinterest Share on LinkedIn Share on Google+ Shares 28k Comments 86 Save for later “The birds are silent in the woods. Just wait: Soon enough You will be quiet too” – Robert Hass When musician and naturalist Bernie Krause drops his microphones into the pristine coral reef waters of Fiji, he picks up a raucous mix of sighs, beats, glissandos, cries, groans, tones, grunts, beats and clicks. The water pulsates with the sound of creatures vying for acoustic bandwidth. He hears crustaceans, parrot fish, anemones, wrasses, sharks, shrimps, puffers and surgeonfish. Some gnash their teeth, others use their bladders or tails to make sound. Sea anemones grunt and belch. Every creature on the reef makes its own sound. But half a mile away, where the same reef is badly damaged, he can only pick up the sound of waves and a few snapping shrimp. It is, he says, the desolate sound of extinction. Krause, whose electronic music with Paul Beaver was used on classic films like Rosemary’s Baby and Apocalypse Now, and who worked regularly with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and The Byrds, has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species, collecting 4,500 hours of sound from many of the world’s pristine habitats. But such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that he estimates half these recordings are now archives, impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been so compromised by human noise. His tapes are possibly the only record of the original diversity of life in these places. Advertisement “A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening,” he writes in a new book, The Great Animal Orchestra. “Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence. “If you listen to a damaged soundscape … the community [of life] has been altered, and organisms have been destroyed, lost their habitat or been left to re-establish their places in the spectrum. As a result, some voices are gone entirely, while others aggressively compete to establish a new place in the increasingly disjointed chorus.” Hawaii, he says, is the extinction capital of the world. “In a couple of centuries since the islands were populated by Europeans, half the 140 bird species have disappeared. In Madagascar, 15 species of lemur, an elephant bird, a pygmy hippo and an estimated half of all the animals have gone extinct.” Even partially dis
Not ‘on the verge”: we are there..
A new study showing that the human activity has driven current rates of species extinction to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate is “alarming” and “should be a clarion call” to work towards greater conservation efforts, an environmental group charges.The study, published Thursday by the journal Science and led by conservation expert Stuart Pimm, also warns that without drastic action, the sixth mass extinction could be imminent.
And Prof Paul Tyler, also a biologist, of the National Oceanography Centre, warned that unique species would be at risk.
“If you wipe out that area by mining, those animals have to do one of two things: they disperse and colonise another hydrothermal vent somewhere or they die.
“And what happens when they die is that the vent will become biologically extinct.”
However, marine chemist Prof Rachel Mills, of the University of Southampton, called for a wider debate about mining generally on the grounds that we all use minerals and that mines on land are far larger than any would be on the seabed.
She has carried out research for Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian firm planning to mine hydrothermal vents off Papua New Guinea.
“Everything we are surrounded by, the way we live, relies on mineral resources and we don’t often ask where they come from,” she said.
“We need to ask whether there is sustainable mining on land and whether there is sustainable mining in the seas.
“I actually think it is the same moral questions we ask whether it’s from the Andes or down in the Bismarck Sea.”
This debate is set to intensify as the reality of the first mining operations comes closer.
David Shukman presents a documentary on deep sea mining on Discovery on the BBC World Service