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Here’s how scientists are using loudspeakers to repopulate fish in dead corals

Beneath the ocean’s veneer, there is a magical world filled with thousands of colors and brimming with marine creatures. When you descend to the aquatic realm, be prepared to be blown away by the majestic beauty of the underwater world. What makes our saltwater bodies alluring? The answer would be coral reefs.

The ocean would become a bleak and lifeless void without coral reefs. These underwater structures are composed of clustered corals that serve as habitat for fishes and crustaceans. They protect the coastlines from damages caused by waves and tropical storms, help in nutrient cycling, and are vital sources of nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine food chains. However, due to climate change, the gems of the underwater paradise are severely threatened.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 33 percent of reef-building corals are in danger. Reefs around the world have already suffered the consequences of climate change. Several coral reef sanctuaries have undergone mass bleaching or have been destroyed from physical causes such as explosives, mining, and overfishing.

One of the victims is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which is also the world’s most extensive coral reef system. In an alarming data from National Geographic, half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to death since 2016, caused by heat stress of climate change.

A team of British and Australian scientists banded and came up with an innovative solution to revive one of the world’s seven natural wonders. They used underwater loudspeakers to attract fishes to the dead coral reefs to help them recuperate. The groundbreaking process is dubbed as “acoustic enrichment,” which has been published recently in the Journal of Nature Communications.

Loudspeakers are placed on patches of dead corals in the Great Barrier Reef. After careful observation, researchers discovered a favorable result—nearly twice as fish arrived and inhabited the makeshift habitat compared to patches where that played no sound.

“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 hone on these sounds when they’re looking for a place to settle,” said Steve Simpson, marine biology and global change professor at the University of Exeter.

Degraded reefs become quiet since their occupants migrate to another habitat. “By using loudspeakers to restore this lost soundscape, we can attract young fish back again,” Simpson added.

Tim Gordon, another marine biologist and lead author of the study, mentioned how the rise of fish population can help the lost ecosystems thrive again. “Fish are crucial for coral reefs to function as healthy ecosystems . . . Boosting fish populations in this way could help kick-start natural recovery processes, counteracting the damage we’re seeing on many coral reefs around the world,” he said. It is also worth noting how the recent innovation boosted the number of species living in the coral reefs by 50 percent.

As it turns out, one of the solutions to revive the ocean’s diversity from climate change is sound and music. “Acoustic enrichment is a promising technique for management on a local basis,” said co-author Andy Radford of University of Bristol.

Despite this groundbreaking discovery, we still have our work cut out for the preservation of coral reefs. The average water temperatures are rising, and problems such as overfishing and pollution are still among the pressing issues at hand. Also, further research is still needed to understand how loudspeakers influence the behavior of aquatic creatures fully.

Nevertheless, hope is still visible for the vulnerable coral reefs. The authors of the acoustic enrichment study remain to be optimistic in the power of music and sound to restore the reef’s abundant marine population. See the video below for more info about this topic.

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