Sounds on the coral reef

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have discovered an innovative method that could help rebuild degraded coral reefs. In a study published in Royal Society Open Science, the research team led by Aran Mooney and doctoral candidate Nadège Aoki conducted experiments showing that playing sounds from a healthy reef could significantly increase the settlement rates of coral larvae in degraded areas.

Healthy coral reefs are bustling with life, filled with the croaks, purrs, and grunts of various fish, and the snaps of shrimp. Research indicates that marine larvae use this rich array of sounds to decide where to settle and grow. Corals, being immobile in their adult stage, have only one chance to choose a place to settle—the larval stage. During this period, larvae drift with the currents, searching for the optimal conditions to develop. Previous studies suggested that environmental signals such as water chemistry or light could influence this decision. However, WHOI’s latest findings suggest that sound plays an equally important, if not crucial, role.

The experiment conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands involved installing underwater speakers that played sounds recorded at the healthy Tektite reef. This was carried out on three different reefs: the healthy Tektite and two degraded ones—Cocoloba and Salt Pond. At Salt Pond, where the experiment was most intensively conducted, cups containing coral larvae were placed at various distances from the speakers, and the sounds of the healthy reef were played over three consecutive nights.

The results were promising—significantly more larvae settled in the cups at Salt Pond than at the other two reefs, with the greatest success achieved at a distance of five meters from the speakers. Importantly, even at a distance of thirty meters from the sound source, more larvae settled than at Cocoloba and Tektite.

Nadège Aoki emphasized that although the Tektite reef was previously considered healthy, recent hurricanes, bleaching events, and outbreaks of coral disease might have depleted its soundscape complexity. This underscores the importance of research on the acoustic environment of coral reefs and its impact on coral life processes.

The use of sound to play healthy reef sounds is a promising tool in the restoration of degraded coral reefs, which are home to over a quarter of all marine species, protect coastlines from storms, and provide food and tourism opportunities for millions of people worldwide. Amy Apprill, a co-author of the study and microbial ecologist at WHOI, highlights that while replicating the acoustic environment is relatively easy, it offers hope for scalable solutions that can genuinely contribute to the protection and rebuilding of coral reefs.


About the author

Picture of Grzegorz Bubak

Grzegorz Bubak

My fascination with marine aquariums began over two decades ago when I stumbled upon an article about this topic in a magazine. Since then, the underwater world has become my obsession and passion, shaping my everyday life. I started my adventure with marine aquariums with soft corals, which were my first step into this fascinating world. Over time, captivated by the diversity and beauty of SPS corals, I decided to focus on their cultivation, which continues to fill me with constant wonder.

Thanks to my experience and passion for marine aquariums, I am ready to share my knowledge and expertise with other enthusiasts in this field. I am happy to be part of the Reef Pedia community, which serves as an invaluable source of information for all marine aquarium lovers.

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