The largest living structure on Earth, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, has been slowly dying for years (among many other coral reefs across the globe). The good news is that scientists have recently discovered that by playing ambient natural sounds through loudspeakers, they can lure fish to the area and restore life to the dead patches of the Great Barrier Reef. The fish then help clean the reef, enabling the growth of new corals and replenishment of the ecosystem.
A healthy coral reef is a noisy place, full of claw-snapping crustaceans and fish that whoop, hum and grunt. According to marine biologist Stephen D. Simpson of the University of Exeter, this results in “a dazzling biological soundscape.” On the contrary, a dead coral reef is veiled in silence. In the absence of lively marine life activity sounds, most fish do not frequent the dead zones.
Dead coral reefs are one of the many horrible effects of human behavior on our environment. Worldwide, thousands of miles of coral ecosystem have become bleached-out due to 4 devastating factors: rising ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, contamination and overfishing.
A team of researchers led by marine biologists at the University of Exeter experimented with playing recordings of healthy reefs. The results, which were published in Nature Communications, were a doubling of the total number of fish arriving at the reef and a 50% increase in the number of species present.
However, in addition to this “acoustic enrichment”, continued restoration efforts with the intention of mitigating or stopping climate change are still crucial in saving the Great Barrier Reef. Threats such as climate change, overfishing and water pollution must be addressed in order to protect these fragile ecosystems.
This natural "sound healing" technique joins a list of unorthodox restoration methods to save coral reefs, including planting corals in nurseries, where they dangle from metal “trees” and cultivating heat-resistant corals in the laboratory.
Restoring reefs will require addressing the elephant in the room: climate change. Due in large part to heat stress, devastating coral reef bleaching is now occurring every 6 years, rather than every few decades as it did until the 1980s. Scientists have warned that the oceans may now be changing too quickly for some reefs to recover.