East Brother Island

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Foghorns and the Changing Coastal Soundscape

Technology and politics are changing the tune of the maritime chorus

Read the full text version of this story at KQED’s QUEST site.

Craig Miller

East Brother Island, with the 19th-century lighthouse on the left and fog signal building on the right.

On foggy mornings, I wake up to a faint symphony of foghorns. From my condo on a windy bluff above the Mare Island Strait, the horn on the Carquinez Bridge is the bassoon in the back row, accompanied by the assorted boops and beeps of all the other fog signals within earshot of where the Sacramento River empties into San Pablo Bay.

But the orchestra plays a different tune than it did in decades past. Technology and politics are changing the navigational soundscape of coastal America. Complaints from coastal residents about the repetitive blasts of sound and modern electronic navigation aids have relegated the foghorn to a lesser role in the maritime chorus. Continue reading