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Scientists Are Playing Sounds Underwater to Bring Dead Coral Reefs Back to Life

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The devastating result of the human impact on our environment is perfectly illustrated with the fact that coral reefs around the world are dying at unprecedented rates.

Thousands of miles of coral reef systems around the world have been transformed into bleached coral graveyards thanks to the devastating impact of rapidly-rising ocean temperatures, increased pollution, and overfishing.

The Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s coast (the largest living structure on the planet) has for years, faced an agonizing death. Huge swathes of the coral structure are dying off and large areas have been transformed into bleached, lifeless, carbon matter.

These problems are forcing scientists to come up with new and ingenious ways to restore life to the dead patches of the Great Barrier Reef. One such proposal is to play the idyllic and ambient sounds of nature through underwater loudspeakers to bring fish to the area.  The fish would then clean the reef and allow fresh coral to grow, essential to the recovery of reef ecosystems.

Coral bleaching

For some time, scientists have been concerned about the silence that occupies damaged coral reefs. These reefs once teemed with an orchestra of oceanic sounds from fish and other other reef residents due to the life giving potential of the structures, but without the sound of life, many fish avoid the decaying and dead reef zones.

This problem inspired researchers led by marine biologists from the University of Exeter to set up a system of submarine loudspeakers that play recordings of healthy reefs in a bid to draw fish to dead coral patches around Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

Their incredible results were published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications.

According to a Friday press release by the University of Exeter:

“The study found that broadcasting healthy reef sound doubled the total number of fish arriving onto experimental patches of reef habitat, as well as increasing the number of species present by 50 percent.”

The study’s lead author, marine biologist Tim Gordon, said:

“Fish are crucial for coral reefs to function as healthy ecosystems … Boosting fish populations in this way could help to kick-start natural recovery processes, counteracting the damage we’re seeing on many coral reefs around the world.”

Steve Simpson, a fellow marine biologist at the University of Exeter and co-author of the study, added:

“Healthy coral reefs are remarkably noisy places—the crackle of snapping shrimp and the whoops and grunts of fish combine to form a dazzling biological soundscape. Juvenile fish home in on these sounds when they’re looking for a place to settle.

Reefs become ghostly quiet when they are degraded, as the shrimps and fish disappear, but by using loudspeakers to restore this lost soundscape, we can attract young fish back again.”

The six week loudspeaker experiment could prove to be groundbreaking in the ongoing battle to restore the world’s dying coral reefs.

However, the researchers want to make it cleat that simply playing healthy reef sounds to dying areas won’t magically allow the dead patches to bounce back to life. Much more is needed to protect out coral reefs with moves to halt climate change remaining pivotal in saving the Great Barrier Reef.

Andy Radford, a co-author from the University of Bristol, noted:

“Acoustic enrichment is a promising technique for management on a local basis.

If combined with habitat restoration and other conservation measures, rebuilding fish communities in this manner might accelerate ecosystem recovery.

However, we still need to tackle a host of other threats including climate change, overfishing and water pollution in order to protect these fragile ecosystems.”

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Susie Liberty
Susie is a ridiculously good journalist and writer, highlighting critical stories from around the world. She's one of the most intelligent people we've ever met and if she's not writing something mind-blowing, she'll be reading something mind-blowing!

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