Reefs are singing

Reefs are singing – A new study reveals that healthy reefs are anything but quiet. For the first time there had been a very comprehensive study on audible reef condition which was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The goal of the study was to determine how effective reef restoration were and found ways to measure fish and invertebrate population by sound. Sunrise Laughs, afternoon foghorns, sunset croaks and nighttime purrs – these are the sounds of the reef or better their inhabitants. Researchers focused primarily on reefs that were part of the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Project a few years back. Tim Lamont, author of the Mars Restoration Project on the University of Exeter stated that “This study provides exciting evidence that restoration works for the other reef creatures too- by listening to the reefs, we’ve documented the return of a diverse range of animals.” Researchers listened in on Badi, Bontosua and Salisih reefs in 2018 and 2019 that were healthy or in various stages of recovery. The findings were that healthy reefs were acoustically more active than damaged reefs. Restored reefs sounded more like healthy reefs and the soundscape could be used as a quantitative measure to determine the health of the reef ecosystem. Previous research studies focused more on visual growth of coral and thus presented only a partial picture of the true condition of the reefs ecosystem. This study captured the sounds of the reefs during different times of the day. The sounds ranged from scrapes to growls, whoops and gentle purrs and varied depending of the time of the day. Some of the sounds were recorded for the first time. Professor Steve Simpson of the University of Bristol described the sounds as “really bizarre, and new to us as scientists.”

Well, apparently we can not only listen to the rustling of the forest or the gurgling of a mountain stream. Nature has its unique sounds even in the most unexpected places. It turns out the coral reef has its own soundscape we should be paying a bit more attention to. It may teach us a thing or two on the state of this beautiful and important ecosystem. The reefs are singing, that is for sure now. Only question is if we are listening.

Dr Tim Lamont, University of Exeter