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When reefs talk

April 20, 2023 - Submerging underwater is less silent than you think. The reef at Six Senses Laamu is a riot of fish chatter! This could be a clue to coral regrowth as discovered by conservationist Steve Backshall, hosted by the Maldives Underwater Initiative.

Coral reefs are the dominant ecosystems found in the islands of Maldives, the seventh largest in the world, with 2,031 distinct reefs that provide habitat for more than 700 different species of marine life. Television presenter and conservationist Steve Backshall recently took to the seas during a visit to Six Senses Laamu for an ambitious BBC documentary series Our Changing Planet. He was accompanied by Bristol University Professor Steve Simpson who is trying out new ways to give coral reefs an opportunity to be more efficient at regenerating and overcoming the risk of ocean warming – by listening to them and piecing together the secret world of underwater animal chatter.

We tend to think of reefs as colorful and visual spectacles, but what scientists are understanding is that they are rich sound environments. This provides vital information that marine creatures use to make decisions and also provides a clue to coral regrowth. Coral larvae and zooplankton can hear the difference between denuded and healthy reefs and will naturally swim towards the healthy reef. Listening to species that have never before been recorded is a pioneering adventure into the soundscapes of coral reefs. These discoveries have huge ramifications for coral restoration research, as recordings from healthy reefs could be used in the future to lure millions of baby coral into setting up home on degraded reefs, jump-starting them back into life.

The team at Six Senses Laamu are continually investigating species diversity and the natural replenishment of the reefs by also researching coral spawning, which is not well known in the Maldives. In the first year of this research project, they recorded 11 species of coral spawning at Six Senses Laamu’s house reef on five different months of the year – something previously thought to only happen once or twice a year. The results of the research will contribute towards a better understanding of coral reefs, feeding into more effective marine resource management.

Steve Backshall also had the opportunity to meet our resident Hawksbill turtles, who patrol the reefs as part of a reciprocal relationship. Without marine life such as fish and turtles, coral can become smothered in algae. The turtles act as “sea sheep” grazing for food while cleaning the reef. A critically endangered species, the future of Hawksbill turtles is tangled up with the health of the reef. Julian Gervolino, Sea Turtle Biologist at the Olive Ridley Project, is working to monitor and protect the 750 documented turtles on the Laamu atoll without tagging, just watching and photographing to match their distinctive facial patterns. While the crew were there, they met Daisy!

The documentary shows that this reef and its marine life are thriving – a really good reminder of what it is we must continue to protect.

Our new Sea Hub for Environmental Learning in Laamu (SHELL) is a multi-use space, designed for education and immersive marine conservation experiences for all guests at Six Senses Laamu. It is also home to our Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) team. It features a central exhibition space which invites you to explore the colorful and vibrant local marine life during out-of-the-ordinary encounters, in addition to offices, a marine laboratory, cinema room, and kids’ zone. Young ocean lovers can also try out our Junior Marine Biology online program with 10 turtle-y awesome adventures to enjoy from home.

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