Listening to Coral Reefs: It’s Loud


Editor’s Note: Alison Green, senior marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy, recently traveled to Papua New Guinea to see cutting-edge marine work by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Coral Triangle, the most biodiverse marine region on Earth. Also read her  posts from Papua New Guinea on sea-surface monitoring and climate change in the Coral Triangle and new ways to count cryptic coral reef organisms.

Have you ever noticed the cacophony of sounds on a coral reef? It’s a combination from many species such as snapping shrimp, reef fish, whales and dolphins that use sound to communicate. (The links take you to sounds of these animals.)

A few years ago, NOAA and the University of Hawaii developed an underwater listening device called an Ecological Acoustic Recorder (EAR), which records sounds on and near coral reefs.

Preliminary evidence suggests that these EARs may provide an exciting new technology for monitoring coral reefs around the clock and throughout the year. Do healthy reefs sound different than stressed reefs? If so, we may be able to use these devices to monitor coral reefs using sound to augment less frequent underwater visual censuses by divers 

A few weeks ago, I helped install an EAR in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea (see photo above). This is the first of these instruments to be deployed in the Coral Triangle. Together with other EARs deployed in many other locations around the world, the results should help us determine whether these instruments will provide an effective monitoring method for coral reefs in the future.

(Photo: An EAR on the reef in Kimbe Bay. Credit: Mark Eakin, NOAA.)

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