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In The News: Can You Hear Coral Dying?

04 December 2014

Scientists have discovered that it’s possible to hear the sound of coral reefs perishing - in this fascinating article, Sarah Griffiths looks at how the noise of coral reef gives us an idea of how healthy it is.

At their brightest and most vibrant, coral reefs are among the noisiest environments on the planet and a healthy reef can be heard by sea creatures - and by humans using underwater microphones - from several miles away. Now experts have recorded the more muted sound of a dying reef, as resident fish and crabs fight for their survival.

Researchers from two British universities believe that human activities such as over-fishing drive away marine life so reefs are quieter. This has a huge impact on the fish and invertebrates that rely on the underwater habitat for their home and food. Dr Julius Piercy, from the University of Essex, led the study, which involved taking acoustic recordings of coral reefs with different levels of protection around islands in the Philippines.
The research found that the noise produced by the few remaining resident fish and crustaceans on unprotected reefs was only one third of that made from bustling, healthy reef communities.

The level of noise is considered vital to the larval stages of reef fish and invertebrates, which spend the first few days of their life away from reefs and use sound as an orientation cue to find their way back. With less sound being produced at impacted reefs, the distance over which larvae can detect habitat is ten times less.

This means that future generations could be affected, which are needed to build up and maintain healthy population levels. Dr Piercy said: ‘In an environment where underwater noise plays such an important role in the population dynamics of coral reefs, it is alarming to find such a large effect of human impact on the natural acoustic environment. ‘This puts reef sound in the spotlight for the people who manage coral reef ecosystems because they might need to consider reef sound as an integral part of the design of marine protected area networks to ensure that there is sufficient recruitment of larvae and this study also shows sound can be useful in monitoring the health of coral reefs.’

‘With growing evidence demonstrating the direct impacts of man-made noise on aquatic life, these findings highlight additional indirect human impacts, such as over-fishing and landscape development, on natural underwater sounds.

Dr Steve Simpson, of the University of Exeter, added: ‘Taking sound recordings is a cheap, fast and objective way to get a broad idea of whether a reef is in a good condition or not.'

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2859427/Hear-fading-sound-coral-reefs-DYING-Underwater-habitats-make-noise-resident-fish-crustaceans-die.html#ixzz3KurF4Kot

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