In this short letter we would like to show one fun (or sad) example of how something can be written with the pretence of being scientific while in fact being made to suit a premeditated goal. More precisely, an example how this was done in the draft EIS. The reader should note that this example was selected because it is so laughable. But there are many more from where it came from.

Section in volume 3 of the draft-EIS states:

fauna are likely to become habituated to the elevated noise levels in the long term (Conomy et al 1998)

Plane quackery (or the fun part)

As you note, this statement is backed up by scientific work. Presumably this means that someone studied the flight path and operations around Badgerys Creek and projected them onto what is known about existing fauna in the area - hopefully being extra cautious due to possible adverse effects on national parks in the vicinity. Wonderful.

So, who is this "Conomy et al 1998" and what did they say? Following the citation I found a study of two types of ducks in the US. Ducks in the US?! Are all birds the same? What do ducks in the US have to do with Australian fauna? Also, reading the report, it seems that one type of duck did habituate to the noise, but seemingly not the other.

This did not make any sense. The government itself has a reference page that cites a long list of references, many of which are based on Australian scientists, on Australian animals, also discussing aviation and all at the top of their game:

About 70 pages of relevant citations. Some examples:

  • The effects of light and noise from urban development on biodiversity: Implications for protected areas in Australia, Ecological Management & Restoration, 2014,
  • Kempf, N. & O. Hueppop, 1997,: “The Effects of Aircraft Noise on Wildlife; a Review and Comment”. Vogel und Luftverkehr, Bd. 1/97: 58-70
  • Particelli GL and Blickley JL, 2006, Avian communication in urban noise: causes and consequences of vocal adjustment. The Auk 123(3):639-649
  • Pepper, Christopher B., Nascarella, Marc A.; Kendall, Ronald J. 2003, “A review of the effects of aircraft noise on wildlife and humans, current control mechanisms, and the need for further study”. [Article] Environmental Management. 32(4).. 418-432.
  • Radle, Lyn Autumn, 1998, “The Effect of Noise on Wildlife: A Literature Review” World Forum for Acoustic Ecology Online Reader
  • Lynch, E., Joyce, D., & Fristrup, K. 2011. An assessment of noise audibility and sound levels in U. S. National Parks. Landscape Ecology
  • Belanger L and Bedard J, 1990, Energetic cost of man-induced disturbance to staging in snow geese. The Journal of Wildlife Management 54(1):36-41

And the list goes on and on. The last two citations are related to national park management, and the abstract of the first states:

Throughout the United States, opportunities to experience noise-free intervals are disappearing. Rapidly increasing energy development, infrastructure expansion, and urbanization continue to fragment the acoustical landscape. Within this context, the National Park Service endeavors to protect acoustical resources because they are essential to park ecology and central to the visitor experience. The Park Service monitors acoustical resources in order to determine current conditions, and forecast the effects of potential management decisions. By community noise standards, background sound levels in parks are relatively low. By wilderness criteria, levels of noise audibility are remarkably high. A large percentage of the noise sources measured in national parks (such as highways or commercial jet traffic) originates outside park boundaries and beyond the management jurisdiction of NPS. Many parks have adopted noise mitigation plans, but the regional and national scales of most noise sources call for conservation and management efforts on similar scales.

So how may noise pollution affect animals? Even without being an expert in the area one can list likely mechanisms:

  • Frequent noise affecting the ability to communicate (for example during mating season).
  • The inability to hear and escape from predators.
  • Health effects (for example as the study on geese above shows).


The implications (or the sad part)

Sometime later, after reading a fair bit of several other sections of the EIS, and observing this tendency to cite science as means to tick a box, I came to the following conclusion:

The EIS process simply skipped key scientists and key organisations with leading knowledge on Australian ecology, health, aerosols, and many other fields, when producing their report.

I can and would not say that this is systematic, deliberate or malicious, but definitely a byproduct of external pressures, short timescales and a manifestation of the quality of the underlying democratic process.