In 2016, scientists declared the iconic Great Barrier Reef dead in a rather sad, but oddly entertaining obituary.
The world might have mourned too soon, though.
A team of scientists from the UK and Australia think they’ve found a way to revive dead coral reefs.
A study, recently published in Nature Communications, says that the scientists used a process called “acoustic enrichment”.
They placed loudspeakers on patches of dead coral in the Great Barrier Reef and discovered that twice as many fish arrived — and stayed — compared to equivalent patches where no sound was played.
“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 in on these sounds when they’re looking for a place to settle,” said one of the study’s authors, Steve Simpson, a professor of marine biology and global change at the University of Exeter.
Here’s lead author Tim Gordon, from the University of Exeter, talking about the process. You’ll also be able to hear some of the sounds that they played in the reefs:
Gordon says that the fish could help ecosystems recover.
“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,” he added.
The 1,500 mile-long (2,300 kilometre) Great Barrier Reef has endured multiple large scale “bleaching” events caused by above average water temperatures in the last two decades, including back-to-back occurrences in 2016 and 2017.
Ocean heat waves are not only destroying this natural wonder but compromising its ability to recover — raising the risk of “widespread ecological collapse,” a separate study this year found.
The new research not only saw the number of fish double, but also a 50% increase in the number of species in the reef. This diversity in fish could play a crucial role in helping the coral recover, with each species contributing differently to the complicated aquatic ecosystem.
Andy Radford, a co-author and professor in behavioural ecology at the University of Bristol, notes that “we still need to tackle a host of other threats including climate change, overfishing and water pollution, in order to protect this fragile ecosystem”.
He also suggested that further research would be needed, where the reefs are monitored for a longer period, to truly understand how the loudspeakers influenced the fish.
The loudspeakers are the first step towards saving the reef.
Baby steps are better than nothing at all, but a tough slog still lies ahead.
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