Boat noise a prob­lem for the smaller reef fish

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - SPORT -

A pi­o­neer­ing new study shows the rate fish are cap­tured by preda­tors can dou­ble when boats are mo­tor­ing nearby.

Pro­fes­sor Mark McCormick of the ARC Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence for Co­ral Reef Stud­ies at James Cook Univer­sity was part of an in­ter­na­tional re- search team that found noise from pass­ing mo­tor­boats in­creases stress lev­els in young co­ral reef fish and re­duces their abil­ity to flee from preda­tors.

As a con­se­quence they are cap­tured more eas­ily and their sur­vival chances are halved.

It’s the first study to show that real-world noise can have a di­rect con­se­quence on fish sur­vival.

“It shows that ju­ve­nile fish be­come dis­tracted and stressed when ex­posed to mo­tor­boat noise and preda­tors cap­i­talise on their in­de­ci­sion”, said Pro­fes­sor McCormick.

The team hope the find­ings will in­spire bet­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal noise man­age­ment in coastal ar­eas.

“We found that when real boats were mo­tor­ing near to young dam­selfish in open wa­ter, they be­came stressed and were six times less likely to star­tle to sim­u­lated preda­tor at­tacks com­pared to fish tested with­out boats nearby,” said Dr Stephen Simp­son, of the Univer­sity of Ex­eter who led the study, funded by the Nat­u­ral En­vi­ron­ment Re­search Coun­cil (NERC).

The team of sci­en­tists in­cluded Aus­tralian and Cana­dian re­searchers spe­cial­is­ing in preda­tor¬–prey in­ter­ac­tions and bioa­cous­ti­cians from the Univer­sity of Bris­tol.

They com­bined lab­o­ra­tory and field ex­per­i­ments, us­ing play­backs and real boat noise, to test the im­pact of mo­tor­boat noise on sur­vival of young Am­bon dam­selfish dur­ing en­coun­ters with their nat­u­ral preda­tor the dusky dot­ty­back.

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