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Can We Save Coral Reefs Using Underwater Loudspeakers?

“The desperate search for ways to help the world’s coral reefs rebound from the devastating effects of climate change has given rise to some radical solutions,” reports the Washington Post. There’s coral “nurseries” in the Caribbean, while Hawaiian scientists are trying to breed a new and more resilient type of coral.

But at least one team focused on the herbivorous fish which improve the microbiomes around the reefs — party by eating the seaweed that would otherwise compete with the coral. And they think the solution lies in sounds:

On Friday, British and Australian researchers rolled out another unorthodox strategy that they say could help restoration efforts: broadcasting the sounds of healthy reefs in dying ones. In a six-week field experiment, researchers placed underwater loudspeakers in patches of dead coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and played audio recordings taken from healthy reefs… The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that twice as many fish flocked to the dead coral patches where healthy reef sounds were played compared with the patches where no sound was played… According to the study, the number of species present in the reef patches where healthy sounds were played increased by 50 percent over the other patches. The new fish populations included species from all parts of the food web, such as scavengers, herbivores and predatory fish. Importantly, the fish that arrived at the patches tended to stay there…

The technique, if it can be replicated on larger scales, could offer scientists another tool to revive coral reefs around the world that have been ravaged by climate change, overfishing and pollution in recent years. Scientists have warned that climate change may already be accelerating too fast for some reefs to recover at all and that conservation efforts are not keeping pace with the devastation. Severe coral bleaching triggered by extreme heat waves killed off 50 percent of the Great Barrier Reef, the planet’s largest coral reef, in 2016 and 2017. Such bleaching events — which occur when the nutrient-rich and color-providing algae that live in corals are expelled because of heat stress — are occurring four times as frequently as they did in the 1980s, as The Washington Post has reported.

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