While The Little Mermaid may exaggerate the idea that beneath the ocean waves, lobsters are playing marimba and octopi swell with the sounds of saxophones, there is some truth to the notion of underwater sounds. Recent studies show that coral larvae flock to the sounds of a reef to find a healthy habitat.
Researchers believe this may be the effect of sound waves brushing against the hair cells that cover the exterior of the larvae. Prior to studies on larvae, research at the University of Bristol discovered that baby fish also use sound cues to find reefs.
What does this have to do with land dwellers? Ecologists worry that human noise pollution from boats, drilling, and other sources can drown out the natural sounds of the reef.
However, there is ongoing work to protect coral reefs. This work is aided by a study conducted on the coast of Kenya that showed fishing next to closed, no-fishing areas and restricting the use of nets (an act that can damage reefs) actually led to higher profits and better fish. Surprisingly, it found that large fish would inadvertently enter the area being actively fished through the closure, making it an effective catching system. The results refuted long-held ideas that the combination of these two variables leads to less fish.
So not only does closing off areas protect reefs and their undersea humming, it benefits the market as well. While Ariel may have sacrificed her voice for man, the reefs certainly don’t have to.