Spanish festivals are noisy affairs. The bands are loud; the people are noisy. Many of these celebrations culminate in massive firework displays. Barrages of rockets, helicopters and cones shoot up into the night sky, reverberating through the streets and sending the local dogs into a frenzy of panic. A massive cloud of smoke lingers over the town for ages afterwards as the enormous crowds of people leave for home after enjoying the spectacle.
But it isn’t only dogs and people who don’t like loud noises that suffer from all this snap, crackle and popping. Our environment and particularly birds suffer from this beautiful yet irresponsible form of entertainment.
Firstly, fireworks cause a whole lot of air pollution in a very short amount of time, launching harmful toxins and chemicals into the air that can hang around for hours and even days. Some of them never decompose or disintegrate, but stay there, contaminating or poisoning anything unlucky enough to encounter them.
During big displays like the ones we have here, particles fall to the ground. Many of them contain propellants and colourants. These find their way into the sea.
Worse still, in my opinion, is the effect that fireworks have on our feathered friends. The noises made by fireworks are terrifying and dangerous to birds. Birds are afraid of any loud noise, but fireworks are so noisy that birds just can’t cope. When they explode around breeding grounds or individual birds, the results can be fatal.
In Gualala, northern California, seabirds abandoned their nests after a firework display, leaving their eggs vulnerable to predators, while in Arkansas, about 5,000 blackbirds, starlings, grackles and cowbirds were panicked into colliding with cars, trees and buildings.
The world is waking up to this problem. In response to the Gualala incident, the Coastal Commission halted firework displays, while last year, the Galapagos islands banned the sale and use of pyrotechnics.
We don’t have to do without our summer light shows; we just need to use the available technology and rethink them. Some cities are using laser shows with live music or virtual shows with images of fireworks projected onto tall buildings.
Perhaps it is a question of raising awareness, after all, most reasonable people would give up an hour saying ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ to prevent causing increased heart rates, trembling and anxiety in animals and the death of countless birds. It’s already happening, Banff, in Canada, only uses quiet fireworks to protect wildlife and Bideford in Britain has banned them close to a bridge where starlings roost.
It is also interesting to note that a single, public firework display is preferable to individuals setting them off in different locations. This allows birds to fly away and land somewhere quieter, rather than having to flee from the noise coming at them from all angles.