Scientists Use Underwater Sounds to Rejuvenate Coral Reef Populations



Ocean temperatures and levels of acidity continue to rise at an alarming rate. The effects this has on sea creatures and wildlife can be seen in our dying coral reefs. However, researchers discover an alternative to increasing coral reef well-being. A recent study published in Nature finds the use of underwater speakers as a catalyst in re-establishing health levels in dying reefs.


The same way we might hear a specific song and experience a range of emotions, underwater speakers surprise researchers as unhealthy corals positively respond to their study. They placed underwater speakers to emit sound frequencies resembling what a healthy coral reef would sound like. Not only did this influence the unhealthy coral reefs to regenerate, but it also attracted a variety of fish to help reestablish degradation. 



“We use loudspeakers to broadcast healthy soundscapes on experimental coral-rubble patch reefs for 40 days during a natural recruitment season (November–December 2017) on Australia’s northern Great Barrier Reef. We compare the developing fish communities on these acoustically enriched reefs with those on two categories of acoustically unmanipulated control reefs (with and without dummy loudspeaker rigs). We find that acoustic enrichment enhances fish community development within an important reef fish family, across a range of specific trophic guilds and at the level of the whole community,“ researcher Timothy A. C. Gordon mentions. 



The more fish populations present at damaged reefs, the better the chance at rebuilding upon the damage. They tend to migrate away from unhealthy reefs due to horrid smells and unpleasant sounds. While an increase in fish population isn’t the only solution, they do play a large role in promoting healthy reefs. Fish clean coral reefs and create space for new coral to grow. Increased activity may also inspire other fish to increase settlement after seeing the effects current populations leave on the reefs. 


“If combined with habitat restoration and other conservation measures, rebuilding fish communities in this manner might accelerate ecosystem recovery,” said Professor Andy Radford, a co-author from the University of Bristol, in the press release.



There are several factors, including changing temperatures and acidity levels, at play when it comes to the endangerment of our coral reefs. As current research paves the road ahead, we must also do our part in ensuring sustainable practices.


Gordon concludes the study stating, “ Further work is now needed to investigate the translatability of this finding into different reef habitats and geographical contexts; the impacts of acoustic enrichment on adult fish behaviour; the long-term recovery of natural settlement cues; and the spatial scale of effects on fish communities and ecosystem processes.”


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