Scientists Find Innovative Way To Revive Coral Reefs

A group of researchers on a mission to save vulnerable coral reefs from dying discovered an innovative way to help bring them back via “acoustic enrichment” involving underwater loudspeakers that produce natural coral reef sounds to attract fish and other wildlife.

As coral reefs begin to die, fish and other species begin to abandon the site, thus accelerating the death of the reef and making it even harder to reverse the damage. Just like other ecosystems, coral reefs and the wildlife living in them are mutually beneficial to each other.

Coral reefs around the globe are dying, and that’s not only a bad thing for ocean health, it’s a bad thing for humans because the reefs actually prevent coastal flooding from being worse than it would otherwise be without them and serve as a home for fish that make up part of our food supply.

Hailing from the University of Exeter and the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, as well as Australia’s James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the scientists built 33 reef patches just beyond the Great Barrier Reef and set up loudspeakers near some of them that play common sounds of healthy reefs.

“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,” University of Exeter professor Steve Simpson told EcoWatch. “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.”

Indeed, and it worked. The patches of reef equipped with working loudspeakers attracted a diverse group of species from plankton to fish and even predators to keep a balance.

It’s not a magic quick fix, however, as it takes time for reefs to recover.

“Of course, attracting fish to a dead reef won’t bring it back to life automatically, but recovery is underpinned by fish that clean the reef and create space for corals to regrow,” Australian Institute of Marine Science fish biologist Dr. Mark Meekan said.

This is yet another important tool scientists can now employ in an effort to save dying coral reefs, especially since the Great Barrier Reef is in dire need of care right now before it’s too late for the iconic ecosystem.

But while the new technology is great, we can’t just rely on it to solve this problem. We have to solve the underlying problem, which is human activity that has resulted in climate change.

“Using acoustic enrichment to help recolonize degraded reefs with essential reef fish is a novel tool which can add to the reef conservation toolbox,” University of Oxford’s Dr. Catherine Head told The Guardian. “Our biggest tool in the fight for coral reefs is the 2016 Paris climate change agreement to curb global CO2 emissions, and we must continue to put pressure on governments to fulfill this agreement alongside doing our bit to reduce our own carbon footprints.”

Fixing the underlying problem that is killing coral reefs is the only permanent way to save them for future generations to enjoy. The loudspeakers could buy us more time, but as climate change worsens because of human activity and ignorance, a day will soon come when not even technology can save the day.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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