This week, Harte Research Institute graduate student Yvonne Sheasby considers the value of the natural soundscape.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when my partner and I were cruising on the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway, taking in the view as we followed the winding road. The evergreen trees stood tall with their leaves swaying in the wind, cars scarcely passing by and disturbing the peace in this little slice of natural paradise.
As I looked upon the rocky coastline to the left of me, I was awed by its beauty. It seemed like a protected oasis on the Olympic Peninsula, away from vying crowds and city noises. Hidden in the vast greenery off the scenic byway, beaches were tucked away with visible entryways begging travelers to come explore. Astonished by the crystal blue color of the ocean, I immediately pulled our car over to one of the entryways, expecting a surprising detour ahead of us.
As we stepped out of the car, we were greeted by the sound of waves crashing and the smell of wildflowers. I looked around in excitement; I’m sure my partner noticed the gleam in my eye. Tickled by the thick green vines hanging over the natural entryway, our mouths dropped with shock and awe as we stepped onto a stretch of pebbles and white sand as far as the eye can see. With my senses overwhelmed all at once, I was brought to absolute tears of joy at the scene before me. I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t hear the sound of traffic or a crowd. As tears rolled down my cheeks, I felt truly grateful to be in a place of such natural and quiet splendor with no one else around.
White pebbly sand tickling my bare toes with each step, I looked around the beach as the ocean waves crashed onto the rocks jutting out of the shallow waters. Likewise, a wave of inner peace washed over me as I began to only listen to the natural soundscapes around us. Living in a city, it is rare to find a place where you can hear your own thoughts without the intrusion of sounds or influence of others. It can be easy to get sucked into the daily woes of life, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still going on.
The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on the mental and physical benefits of exposure to nature. These health benefits are well known, and increasing evidence suggests that “natural sounds are important for human health and well-being” (Erfanian et al., 2019). The sounds of nature have “long generated powerful reactions in human beings – from inspiring music and poetry to providing the stark symbolism that ignited the environmental movement” (Buxton et al., 2021). Exposure to natural soundscapes alone offers “beneficial outcomes including decreased pain, lower stress, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive performance” (Buxton et al., 2021). Compared to the fatigue-inducing noise produced in urban environments, natural environments “do not require direct attention and elicit the feeling of pleasure and relaxation” (Buxton et al., 2021).
With the global population increasing at an alarming rate, it is becoming difficult to conserve natural soundscapes because of the intrusion of man-made noise and loss of sound-producing organisms (i.e., birds). The conservation and preservation of nature is vital, especially for urban populations where loss can have serious health implications. With the research on the benefits of exposure to natural soundscapes increasing, it instills in society one more reason for why human beings should go outside more and foster environmental consciousness to preserve and protect these natural oases. The next time you find yourself outside, enjoying the natural quiet splendor mother nature has to offer, ask yourself: Do I feel more at peace than before?