Could Ul­tra Mu­sic Fest be so loud it’s harm­ful to the fish?

The Univer­sity of Mi­ami has raised ob­jec­tions to mov­ing the Ul­tra elec­tronic dance mu­sic fes­ti­val to Vir­ginia Key, where re­search tanks are, cit­ing po­ten­tial dam­age to fish. Turns out ocean noise pol­lu­tion is on the rise.

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JENNY STALE­TOVICH AND JOEY FLECHAS jstale­[email protected]­ami­her­ald.com [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

Last week when Univer­sity of Mi­ami sci­en­tists raised con­cerns about dam­age to re­search fish if Ul­tra moves its thump­ing, bon­er­at­tling elec­tronic dance mu­sic fes­ti­val near the school’s labs on Vir­ginia Key, their ob­jec­tions were met with a good mea­sure of dis­dain.

“In to­day’s lat­est seg­ment of UM do­ing weird nerd stuff,” one critic posted on Twit­ter.

But it turns out ocean noise pol­lu­tion is not just nerd stuff and, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, it’s be­com­ing a chronic prob­lem for marine life.

In 2016, the agency adopted a 10-year plan to deal with in­creas­ingly noisy U.S. wa­ters, where the whir of boat en­gines, un­der­wa­ter con­struc­tion, drilling and other ac­tiv­i­ties are in­ter­fer­ing with the abil­ity of marine life, in­clud­ing man­a­tees, dol­phins, reef fish and shrimp, to lo­cate food, es­cape preda­tors and even find love.

So it’s not just re­search fish that could suf­fer from the thun­der­ing EDM.

Vir­ginia Key pro­vides a rare wildlife sanc­tu­ary in the heart of ur­ban Mi­ami long tar­geted by con­ser­va­tion­ists for pro­tec­tion. The 860-acre is­land holds nest­ing habi­tat for en­dan­gered sea

tur­tles, croc­o­diles and seabirds and bor­ders the Bill Sad­owski Crit­i­cal Wildlfe Area cre­ated in 1990 af­ter speed­boat rac­ing ended at the marine sta­dium. To­day all boats, even kayaks, are banned to pro­tect sea­grass pas­tures for graz­ing man­a­tees.

“If it’s so dis­rup­tive to home­own­ers in down­town and all the way to Brick­ell — be­hind hur­ri­cane glass — that they voted not to have [the fes­ti­val] in their com­mu­nity any­more, imag­ine how dis­rup­tive it’s go­ing to be to wildlife,” said Mi­ami Water­keeper ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Rachel Sil­ver­stein. “This is an area that is sup­posed to be set aside for wildlife.”

Mi­ami city com­mis­sion­ers agreed last week to move the fes­ti­val from its 18-year home at Bayfront Park amid mount­ing com­plaints about noise and traf­fic from down­town’s grow­ing condo com­mu­nity. Non-fans say the three-day fes­ti­val, which at­tracts about 40,000 at­ten­dees a day to hear acts like the Chainsmok­ers, Crys­tal Method and Tiësto, now trig­gers an an­nual ex­o­dus of down­town dwellers.

Or­ga­niz­ers have said they will work with en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tors and that loud mu­sic will not reach UM’s re­search tanks, housed about 1,200 feet from the beach­front park, one of two lo­ca­tions on the Key ap­proved for stages.

Un­der the con­tract, mu­sic is lim­ited to 110 deci­bels within 60 feet of each stage. Where the loud­est sounds will be heard de­pends on the num­ber of stages and how they are ori­ented. Or­ga­niz­ers said they ex­pect to erect more stages in the park­ing lot out­side Mi­ami Marine Sta­dium than along the beach.

But be­cause wa­ter am­pli­fies sound, Roni Avis­sar, dean of the Rosen­stiel School of Marine and At­mo­spheric Sci­ence, warned that noise could be louder when it en­ters the tanks: 110 deci­bels equals about 172 deci­bels in wa­ter. That’s louder than a jet en­gine and loud enough to break glass.

The fes­ti­val also co­in­cides with spawn­ing sea­son for co­bia, mahi mahi, yel­lowfin tuna and other re­search fish. The school has spent years breed­ing the fish to de­velop a spe­cific ge­netic brood­stock, Rosen­stiel marine bi­ol­o­gist Martin Grossell said in an email, and dam­age to the fish could jeop­ar­dize re­search ef­forts, which helped seal a $19 bil­lion set­tle­ment af­ter the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico. At least $4.2 mil­lion in re­search grants could also be lost.

“Suc­cess is di­rectly re­lated to the well-be­ing of the brood­stock, which takes three to four years to de­velop,” he said.

It also comes at a vul­ner­a­ble time for the univer­sity’s hatch­ery lab. Be­fore Hur­ri­cane Irma, many of the fish were moved to Rosen­stiel’s re­in­forced hur­ri­cane surge tank, nor­mally used to test the fe­roc­ity of hur­ri­cane waves, to pro­tect them. The lab it­self suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, he said. Com­ing so soon af­ter, the boom­ing mu­sic could do long-term dam­age to the fish. In the short term, they worry it could lit­er­ally star­tle them to death, caus­ing the fish to slam into the sides of tanks or jump out in an ef­fort to es­cape the sound.

“If hu­mans are dis­turbed, it is highly likely the an­i­mals are, and the an­i­mals tend to have less ca­pac­ity and re­silience to cope with the dis­tur­bance due to a whole host of other, mainly hu­man­caused stres­sors and threats,” said Cana­dian bi­ol­o­gist Linda Weil­gart, who com­piled a 2018 Ocean­care re­port that looked at re­search on ocean noise from 115 stud­ies.

To de­ter­mine the pre­cise im­pacts, sci­en­tists would need to cal­cu­late the an­gle that noise en­ters wa­ter, dis­tance and deci­bel, she said in an email.

“The point is how far these tanks are from the source of the sound,” the speak­ers, she said. “I can’t re­ally say, other than it is a re­ally loud sound.”

While NOAA con­sid­ers “be­hav­ioral ha­rass­ment” to be­gin at about 120 deci­bels, the agency doesn’t yet have a uni­form thresh­old, partly be­cause sound could af­fect species dif­fer­ently. How var­i­ous sounds come to­gether or cause fish to re­act dif­fer­ently is also not well un­der­stood. The ocean is plenty noisy, but sci­en­tists be­lieve in­creas­ing man-made noises are caus- ing a mask­ing ef­fect that in­ter­fere with how fish live and be­have.

The most well-doc­u­mented cases in­volve mil­i­tary sonar on dol­phins and whales. In 2000, a half-dozen whales and dozens of other mam­mals, some with bleed­ing ears, beached them­selves near Abaco Is­land. In 2005, 34 dif­fer­ent species of whales beached them­selves in North Carolina fol­low­ing mil­i­tary test­ing. Last year, the U.S. Navy agreed to limit sonar and ex­plo­sions along the south­east­ern coast to help pro­tect en­dan­gered North At­lantic right whales.

Lab tests have also shown ef­fect­son fish can be pro­found, in­clud­ing in­ter­nal in­juries, hear­ing loss and death, ac­cord­ing to Weil­gart’s re­port. Scal­lop lar­vae blasted by seis­mic air­guns suf­fered from de­vel­op­men­tal de­lays and de­formed bod­ies. Sea hare lar­vae ex­posed to ship noise also suf­fered de­vel­op­men­tal de­lays while At­lantic cod lar­vae had smaller bod­ies. Boat noise also disori­ented baby reef fish, which could im­pede their abil­ity to make it safely to reefs for food and shel­ter.

An­i­mals also showed more ag­gres­sion, ate and courted less and pro­duced fewer eggs. Stud­ies also found that catches in noisy ar­eas de­clined, with larger fish leav­ing the area, the study said.

Sil­ver­stein also wor­ries the con­cert could co­in­cide with bird nest­ing sea­son and that loud mu­sic would cause birds to flee nests with chicks or eggs. Re­search also sug­gests it could af­fect how man­a­tees move through the area, she said.

“They’ve al­ready had a cat­a­strophic year be­cause of the red tides and fur­ther im­ped­ing re­pro­duc­tion and re­cov­ery, and dis­turb­ing these marine an­i­mals, is fur­ther harm,” she said.

Mem­bers of the Vir­ginia Key Beach Trust, the semi­au­tonomous city agency that man­ages the park, also raised con­cerns at a meet­ing this week. The Trust has worked to pre­serve the his­toric park, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing in­va­sive veg­e­ta­tion and restor­ing na­tive species.

“The nat­u­ral char­ac­ter of the is­land has al­ways been one of its as­sets,” said

Gene Tin­nie, chair­man of the board.

Be­fore the March con­cert, Ul­tra must ob­tain any re­quired per­mits. As of Fri­day, county and state en­vi­ron­men­tal agen­cies said they had not yet re­ceived any ap­pli­ca­tions.

THIS IS AN AREA THAT IS SUP­POSED TO BE SET ASIDE FOR WILDLIFE. Mi­ami Water­keeper ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Rachel Sil­ver­stein

MA­TIAS J. OC­NER moc­[email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

Ul­tra fans near the main stage dur­ing the three-day fes­ti­val in Bayfront Park in March. Mi­ami city com­mis­sion­ers have agreed to move the event to Vir­ginia Key.

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