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There's a difference between the sound of a healthy coral reef and a degraded reef

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is what a healthy coral reef sounds like.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORAL REEF CRACKLING)

INSKEEP: Nadege Aoki studies the bioacoustics of coral reefs at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

NADEGE AOKI: They support close to a quarter of all marine species. And that also means that they are really critical for human communities as well because they support billions of dollars' worth of tourism, of fisheries. And they even protect our coastal communities.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse and imperiled habitats on the planet. Aoki says when the reef is thriving, fish and other marine creatures create a rich soundscape.

AOKI: So you might hear on a healthy reef lots of coursing of different fish. So it might sound kind of like grunts or crackling or purring almost. And then you will also have a lot of invertebrate sounds, including the sounds of snapping shrimp. All of that together is, you know, what we consider to be a healthy reef.

INSKEEP: And apparently the fish will know this. So Aoki and her team used loudspeakers to play those sounds around an imperiled reef off the U.S. Virgin Islands. They used the sound as a lure so that coral larvae would pick a degraded reef for their permanent habitat and strengthen it.

AOKI: They're really, really important for us, and they are facing threats around the world at accelerating rates. And a lot of that is because of the warming oceans due to anthropogenically induced climate change.

MARTIN: That means human-caused climate change. Aoki says there's still lots more to study before scientists can apply acoustic enrichment more broadly to reef restoration, but what they learned is a step in the right direction. Their work is published in the Royal Society Open Science Journal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASAYOSHI FUJITA'S "MOROCCO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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