Scientists Are Using Sound to Heal the Coral Reefs
If you’ve been reading Sound Health for a while now, you know that sound helps bring your body into “healing mode.”
Sound helps reduce stress, clear the mind, and achieve deeper sleep—all of which allow your body to heal and function more efficiently.
Interestingly, researchers have just discovered that sound can also help other living organisms enter “healing mode”—particularly, coral reefs.
And this hopeful news couldn’t come at a better time—especially since the topic of climate change is in the global spotlight.
Why coral reefs are vital to the Earth—and our economy
In a 2019 study published in Natural Communications, an inventive team of international researchers used sound to help heal this critical part of our oceans.
Before I dive into the study details (pun intended), I first want to talk about why you should care about the reefs—even if you live thousands of miles from one.
There are countless reasons why they’re important—both environmentally and economically:
- They support more species than any other marine environment—including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals, and hundreds of other species. In fact, scientists estimate there are millions more undiscovered species living in and around the reefs.
- They’re also a source of food for tens of millions of animals (on both land and in water) and people. In developing countries, coral reefs make up about 25 percent of the total catch, providing food for tens of millions of people.
- Healthy reefs boost tourism for local economies through diving tours, fishing trips, and resorts, etc.). The reefs provide millions of jobs and contributes billions of dollars to the global economy each year.
- They prevent property damage, loss of life, and erosion in coastal towns. The reefs help reduce damage by absorbing energy from the force of waves—weakening the effects of tropical storms, hurricanes, and strong currents.
- Some of the life found in coral reefs are being used in the development of cutting-edge medicine. Scientists believe some of the drugs they’re formulating from these resources could potentially induce/ease labor, or treat arthritis, asthma, bacterial infections, cancer, heart disease, viruses, and many other serious diseases.
All of these benefits come from an environment that covers less than one percent of the Earth’s surface. That’s pretty remarkable!
Yet, our planet’s coral reefs are continuing to perish. And there are many contributing factors—both natural and man-made—including: rising ocean temperatures and sea levels, ocean acidification, overfishing, coral mining, pollution, and coastal development.
Restoring reefs with sound
Given coral reef’s high value to the planet, proactive approaches to restore them are of the utmost importance.
So in 2019, an Australian team of researchers jumped into action. They set out to revive an unhealthy reef with quite a novel approach…
In their study published in the journal Nature Communications, they used sound to attract healthy fish colonies to degraded reefs—a strategy to help restore the coral.
They used sound because fish are drawn to healthy-sounding reefs.
Of course, you might not be able to hear it, but when thousands of fish and marine creatures are living life below the surface, they do indeed create a unique soundscape. (Here’s what a healthy reef sounds like: http://bit.ly/healthyreef.)
These sounds are important because many young, fertile fish species rely on them to determine whether or not they should settle down in the coral reef and establish a community, or move on.
So to emulate a healthy reef, the researchers placed an underwater loudspeaker near a coral-rubble patch, in an attempt to lure the fish to return and rejuvenate the damaged reef.
Then, in two other locations of the reef, they experimented with a “dummy” loudspeaker system (to control for visual cues) and no loudspeaker in the other.
What they observed after 40 days, was remarkable.
The researchers found that sound-enhanced reef doubled its population of young damselfish—a key player in this particular ecosystem!
And with them came other fish… large and small, plant eaters, predators, and everything in between!
The researchers concluded that this sound-based strategy had a significantly positive impact on recruiting important species of juvenile fish to settle in the degraded coral reefs.
The team plans to continue testing this approach in other reef locations around the world with the hope of being a part of the solution to heal our oceans.
Nine ways you can help heal coral reefs
As it turns out, sound is a powerful force for healing—both for human beings and our environment!
But there’s much more we can do to help this important ecosystem thrive. Here are a few simple ways you can help protect coral reefs—no matter where you live.
- Recycle and dispose of trash properly. When putting your trash out for pick-up, make sure it can’t be blown onto the road. That trash may eventually be washed away into a storm drain and make its way into our waterways.
And at the beach, always make sure you clean up after yourself. Never leave anything behind.
- Go green with your lawn care. The products you put on your grass will eventually make its way into waterways, and eventually the ocean. Fertilizers are particularly harmful due to their nitrogen and phosphorus content, as these nutrients increase algae growth. This can potentially block the sunlight coral and ocean life need to thrive. Instead, look into environmentally friendly alternatives for fertilizer and pesticides.
- Conserve water. Limit the runoff and wastewater that eventually flows back into the ocean.
- Volunteer. If you live near the coast, participate in regular beach cleanups. And if you don’t live near the beach, look into how you can protect your local watershed.
- Attempt to drive less. Trying walking, biking, or using public transportation when you can. This will help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which contribute to ocean acidification and the rise in ocean water temperatures.
- Use energy-efficient lightbulbs. These reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which warm ocean waters.
- Educate others. Perhaps one of the most important things you can do is to spread the word. Inform your family, friends, co-workers, and community about the importance of our coral reefs. You can also ask your local representatives about what your state is doing to protect water quality and our oceans.
And if you do visit a coral reef, always remember:
- Never touch coral. If you dive or snorkel, do not touch the coral reefs. Contact with humans or boat anchors can damage the delicate coral animals. Kicked up sediment can also smother the corals.
- Wear reef-friendly SPF. If you visit or live near a tropical beach, be sure to wear sunscreen that has reef-friendly ingredients. The label will typically indicate if it’s “reef safe.” You can find these sunscreens in most drug stores or on Amazon.com.
Earth’s resources aren’t infinite. We must all pitch in to protect the planet, especially for future generations. And a big part of that is protecting our oceans and the coral reef.
As a whole, we each need to do our part to help heal the planet. And to be a great advocate, you need to be at your best as well. If you’re interested in using sound to help heal yourself, I encourage you to check out my Speed Healing Audio Tool Kit.
8 Easy Was You Can Help Coral Reefs. (n.d.) Nature.org. Retrieved from: nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/protect-water-and-land/land-and-water-stories/8-easy-ways-you-can-help-coral-reefs/
Gordon, T. et al. (2019). Acoustic enrichment can enhance fish community development on degraded coral reef habitat. Nature Communications. Retrieved from: nature.com/articles/s41467-019-13186-2#article-info
Importance of Coral Reefs. (n.d.) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved from: oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral07_importance.html
Top 10 things you can do about climate change. (2019). David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved from: davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/top-10-ways-can-stop-climate-change/
Value of corals. (n.d.) Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved from: scripps.ucsd.edu/projects/coralreefsystems/about-coral-reefs/value-of-corals/
What Can I Do to Protect Coral Reefs? (n.d.) National Ocean Service. Retrieved from: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/thingsyoucando.html
What You Can Do to Help Protect Coral Reefs. (n.d.) Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from: epa.gov/coral-reefs/what-you-can-do-help-protect-coral-reefs