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Scientists may have found a way to save dying coral reefs: 'We are in a race against time'

"If we can save reefs, we can save anything."

"If we can save reefs, we can save anything."

Photo Credit: iStock

Saving coral reefs might be possible with the power of … sound? 

Scientists have found that playing certain sounds through underwater speakers can help restore damaged coral ecosystems. This groundbreaking discovery offers a fresh and hopeful solution to protect these vital underwater worlds and support marine life and coastal communities.

As reported by the Guardian, researchers in the Caribbean have discovered that playing sounds of healthy coral reefs through underwater speakers can help damaged reefs recover. They found that baby corals were up to seven times more likely to settle and grow in areas where these recordings were played.

Corals do not have ears, but they can perceive sound through "tiny hairs which get moved by sound," as University of Bristol marine biology professor Steve Simpson, who was involved in an earlier study proving coral larvae respond to sound, told Google Arts & Culture.

Coral reefs, known as the "rainforests of the sea," have been devastated by the overheating planet, overfishing, pollution, and disease, losing half their population since the 1950s. This decline has led to many conservation efforts

Now, using sound technology, scientists have a promising new way to help these vital ecosystems bounce back.

Nadège Aoki from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution led the research by placing underwater speakers at three reefs near St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They played recordings of healthy reef sounds at the damaged Salt Pond reef for three nights. 

The results were impressive. Coral larvae settled 1.7 times more at Salt Pond compared to other sites without the recordings, showing how effective these sounds can be in attracting young corals.

This discovery is great news for both people and the environment. Coral reefs are vital because they provide homes and food for many marine species. They also protect coastlines from erosion and support fishing and tourism, which are important for local economies. Restoring coral reefs could improve marine life, protect coastal areas, and boost economic activities that rely on healthy reefs.

Simpson, the University of Bristol professor who has been using similar audio techniques to attract fish larvae to reefs for 20 years, expressed his enthusiasm for this study to the Guardian. 

"We are in a race against time to secure the future of coral reefs," he said. "Coral reefs are the first marine ecosystems we could lose to climate change, which means they are also the first we can save. If we can save reefs, we can save anything."

Aoki emphasized the need for thoughtful application of this technology, ensuring that coral larvae settle in environments where they can survive and thrive. 

"You don't want to encourage them to settle where they will die. It really has to be a multi-pronged effort with steps in place to ensure the survival of these corals and their growth over time," she said.

This pioneering use of sound to regenerate coral reefs represents a promising step toward a better future for both marine ecosystems and human communities. As we continue to develop and refine such techniques, we will move closer to a world where coral reefs and the diverse life they support can flourish once again.

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