Around our planet, coral reef ecosystems are dying. They die because of coral mining, pollution, fishing, and human-made canals. Climate change causes bleaching (image), which also leads to unhealthy reef ecosystems. Scientists say, unless we can turn the tide of climate change and ocean pollution, 100% of coral reefs will be in danger by 2050.
Last week on NPR I heard a short segment on the importance of Coral Reef soundscapes. When reefs are unhealthy, they go silent. Silence is a sign, in this case, of disease. When young fish are born in silent reefs, they leave to find a healthy ecosystem in which to live. However, fish can also help reefs heal themselves, so drawing fish back to dead sections is essential. Tim Gordon did his doctoral thesis on this: "Clownfish whoop, and cod grunt. And parrotfish crunch their way through coral as they graze. And sea urchins scrape, and shrimp snap their claws. And together, that makes a symphony of reef noise that can be heard from miles away." Gordon and colleagues at University of Exeter recorded reef soundscapes in healthy areas and played them in dying reef ecosystems. 50% of reef fish returned.
Discovery of Sound in the Sea has a description of how sound is used in researching coral reefs on their webpage, which can be useful for teachers who want to use this information. They also include a sound library that can be used to inspire student compositions. Imagine students writing their own music inspired by the sounds of undersea earthquakes, hydrothermal vents, clownfish, or manatees and helping their communities better understand the ecological challenges facing our oceans!