The communities of fish at coral reefs are not just a pretty complement to the picture, but they play an integral role in enabling the reef ecosystem to function and develop properly.
Healthy coral reefs are full of sounds of life—with the whistles, pops and grunts of fish, the crackle of snapping shrimp, etc. These sounds travel out through the ocean currents, and “advertise” to young fish to come and settle down at this particular reef ecosystem.
However, when reefs are degraded or dying, the environment falls silent. Literally.
As a result, young fish do not find their way to such reefs, and this exasperates the reef's dire situation.
In a recent study, an international team of researchers have managed to attract young fish to degraded reefs by using loudspeakers to play sounds of healthy reefs. The technique is called acoustic enrichment.
Describing the sounds of a healthy reef as a “dazzling biological soundscape,” Professor Steve Simpson from the University of Exeter said that “juvenile fish home in on these sounds when they're looking for a place to settle.”
According to the press release, "broadcasting healthy reef sound doubled the total number of fish arriving onto experimental patches of reef habitat, as well as increasing the number of species present by 50 percent."
"Of course, attracting fish to a dead reef won't bring it back to life automatically, but recovery is underpinned by fish that clean the reef and create space for corals to regrow," said Australian Institute of Marine Science fish biologist Dr Mark Meekan.
Describing acoustic enrichment as a promising technique for management on a local basis, coauthor Professor Andy Radford from the University of Bristol added: "If combined with habitat restoration and other conservation measures, rebuilding fish communities in this manner might accelerate ecosystem recovery."
The findings of the study were published in the Nature Communications journal.