SCUBA noise alters community structure and cooperation at Pederson’s cleaner shrimp cleaning stations

Kieran P. McCloskey, Andrew N. Radford, Amelia Rose, Giorgio Casiraghi, Natalie Lubbock, Emma Weschke, Benjamin M. Titus, Dan A. Exton, Stephen D. Simpson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Recreational SCUBA diving is widespread and increasing on coral reefs worldwide. Standard open-circuit SCUBA equipment is inherently noisy and, by seeking out areas of high biodiversity, divers inadvertently expose reef communities to an intrusive source of anthropogenic noise. Currently, little is known about SCUBA noise as an acoustic stressor, and there is a general lack of empirical evidence on community-level impacts of anthropogenic noise on coral reefs. Here, we conducted a playback experiment on Caribbean reefs to investigate impacts of SCUBA noise on fish communities and interspecific cooperation at ecologically important cleaning stations of the Pederson’s cleaner shrimp Ancylomenes pedersoni. When exposed to SCUBA-noise playback, the total occurrence of fishes at the cleaning stations decreased by 7%, and the community and cleaning clientele compositions were significantly altered, with 27% and 25% of monitored species being affected, respectively. Compared with ambient-sound playback, SCUBA-noise playback resulted in clients having to wait 29% longer for cleaning initiation and receiving 43% less cleaning; however, cheating, signalling, posing and time spent cleaning were not affected by SCUBA-noise playback. Our study is the first to demonstrate experimentally that SCUBA noise can have at least some negative impacts on reef organisms, confirming it as an ecologically relevant pollutant. Moreover, by establishing acoustic disturbance as a likely mechanism for known impacts of diver presence on reef animals, we also identify a potential avenue for mitigation in these valuable ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1058414
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2023


  • anthropogenic noise
  • cleaning mutualism
  • community-level impacts
  • coral reefs
  • interspecific behaviour
  • marine invertebrates
  • reef fishes


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