Noise Pollution and Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse

Two Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)  cleaning the mouth of a patient Giant Moray Ell (Gymnothorax javanicus). Photograph by James A. Dawson


From the whirr and hum of ship propellers to the deafening booms of military and construction activity, the oceans are awash with noise. Often overlooked, this pollution may be having a far more detrimental effect on marine wildlife than once thought. An issue that has been recently demonstrated by a study investigating its influence on the behaviour of cleaner fish.



Nedelec et al. (2017) has shown that noise created by passing motorboats may disrupt the fascinating interaction between Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) and their clientele, other fish of the reef. These cleaner wrasse remove ectoparasites from fish who visit their cleaning stations and is a vital process for the health of individual fish as well as the biodiversity of the reef 2. Under the influence of passing motorboats however, the authors demonstrated that Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse spent longer cleaning clients and were also more likely to ‘cheat’ by feeding on the mucous instead of ectoparasites. This cheeky behaviour is usually punished by clientele, often through chasing, however under these noisy conditions this cheating is punished less often. A consequence that the authors speculate may result from cleaner wrasse taking advantage of distracted clientele 1.  Though the direct influence of this noise pollution on parasite behaviour and actual parasite removal rate was not investigated, this is a worrying pattern given the importance of these cleaning interactions for reef ecosystems 2. Maybe future research should focus additionally on the influence of louder noises, different sources of noise pollution, and its long-term effects, to truly the predict the potential consequence of future marine based human activity.

Source information

  1. Nedelec SL, Mills SC, Radford AN, Beldade R, Simpson SD, Nedelec B, Côté IM. Motorboat noise disrupts co-operative interspecific interactions. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 6987(2017). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-06515-2
  2. Waldie PA, Blomberg SP, Cheney KL, Goldizen AW, Grutter AS. Long-Term Effects of the Cleaner Fish Labroides dimidiatus on Coral Reef Fish Communities. Liu DX, ed. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(6):e21201. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021201.

Author: Luke Williams

A graduate of Zoology (MBiolSci) from the University of Sheffield with an interest in marine conservation and wider ecological issues.

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