A Deadly Hush is Falling on The Great Barrier Reef
Healthy coral reefs produce a cacophony of sound - everything from shrimp clicks, damselfish chirps and parrotfish chomping on coral. However, a new study has found that the Great Barrier Reef is falling silent.
A study led by Tim Gordon of the University of Exeter has found that recent cyclone damage and the impact of coral bleaching is leaving large tracts of the world's largest barrier reef significantly quieter than they were three years ago.
He said: 'It's heartbreaking to hear. The usual pops, chirps, snaps and chatters of countless fish and invertebrates have disappeared. The symphony of the sea is being silenced.
'Being able to hear the difference really drives home the fact that our coral reefs are being decimated.
'Some of the most beautiful places on Earth are dying due to human activity, and it is up to us to fix it.'
The study has also discovered that the degraded soundscape of the damaged reefs attracts fewer juvenile fish. The young fish mature from eggs and larvae in the open ocean and are drawn back to the coral reef by the loud sound it makes. The study found that the newly silenced reefs attract 40 per cent fewer juvenile fish.
Dr Harry Harding, co-author of the study, from the University of Bristol, added: 'If fish aren't hearing their way home anymore, that could be bad news for the recovery prospects of reefs.
'Fish play critical roles on coral reefs, grazing away harmful algae and allowing coral to grow. A reef without fish is a reef that's in trouble.'
Senior author Steve Simpson, associate professor in marine biology and global change at Exeter, said: 'Over the last 15 years my research group have discovered how important sound can be for fish to locate and select specific reefs.
'We have marvelled at the remarkable diversity and complexity of coral reef soundscapes. But in the last few years, the reefs we know and love have died before our eyes. And the deserted and crumbling rubble fields have turned eerily quiet.'
'If the reefs have gone quiet, then the chances of the next generation of fish recolonising the reefs are much reduced. Without fish, the reefs can't recover.'
The full findings of the study were published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The report came out at the same time as the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Australia would be putting aside more than $500 million Australian dollars (or $379 million USD) to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
The amount is unprecedented and is the biggest single investment that the imperilled ecosystem, or any other coral reef ecosystem, has ever seen.
As part of the initiative, the Australian government will be entrusting $444 million of the pledge to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
However, many conservations fear it is too little too late and unless more efforts are made to stop the causes of global warming such as the extensive use of coal of which Australia is a leading exporter, the GBR is doomed.
Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and founder of 350.org, has been particularly critical of the Turnbull government's continued reliance on coal.
'Science is well aware of what is killing coral on the Great Barrier Reef — it's the excess heat that comes from burning fossil fuels," he told The New York Times.
'If the Turnbull government was serious about saving the reef, they would be willing to take on the industry responsible for the damage.'
McKibben finds the announcement somewhat hypocritical given the Turnbull government's support of the controversial Adani coal mine, which would have a deleterious effect on the reef.
'To simultaneously promote Adani's coal mine, which would be one of the world's largest, pretending to care about the world's largest reef is an acrobatic feat only cynical politicians would attempt,' added McKibben.