Several human interferences impact the Red Sea: poaching by Yemenese fishermen, frequent oil spills, and even sunscreen is harmful to corals. These examples barely bob on the surface of the greater problem though. Worldwide, phytoplankton is diminishing, a sign of serious ecological malfunction, and more and more fish are being added to the list of threatened species. A recent study on the Great Barrier Reef, the granddaddy of reefs, adds another threat to the creatures that call the reef home: noise.
It’s awfully loud in here
Lesley Richardson from scotsman.com explains how noise from human activity disrupts the ability of fish to adapt to their environment.
“Noise pollution from shipping, drilling for oil or wind farms could lead fish away from their natural habitat into areas where they could die, potentially devastating future fish stocks,” she wrote.
Lost at sea
The reasons are surprising: when fish are born on the reef, they rely on sound to make sense of their world.
“Reef noise gives them vital information but if they can learn, remember and become attracted towards the wrong sounds, we might be leading them in all the wrong directions,” according to Dr. Steve Simpson, senior researcher in the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences.
The rumble of industry
Being able to hear past the underwater rumble of human industry in order to understand the signals emitted by creatures such as other fish, sea urchins, and shrimps is becoming increasingly difficult as the noise escalates.
Though this study, which Richardson notes was published in Behavioral Ecology and carried out at Lizard Island Research Station, applies to the Great Barrier Reef, given the vast fishing, oil, and tourism industries in and along the Red Sea, there is good reason to believe that it too is vulnerable.
The precious Red
“Due to its relatively small size, limited oceanographic circulation and high endemism, the Red Sea is particularly vulnerable to pollution, loss of species, and reduction in ecosystem productivity. The key environmental threats are unregulated fishing, uncontrolled development, and oil pollution…,” according to the Encyclopedia of Earth.
Fixing this problem would be no easy feat: the industries that create so much noise – oil, fishing, tourism – are also staples of our consumer diet. But can we at least control when and how frequently that noise is permitted?