Understanding the relationship between coral reef condition and recruitment potential is vital for the development of effective management strategies that maintain coral cover and biodiversity. Coral larvae (planulae) have been shown to use certain sensory cues to orient towards settlement habitats (e.g. the odour of live crustose coralline algae – CCA). However, the influence of auditory cues on coral recruitment, and any effect of anthropogenic noise on this process, remain largely unknown. Here, we determined the effect of protected reef (MPA), exploited reef (non-MPA) soundscapes, and a source of anthropogenic noise (boat) on the habitat preference for live CCA over dead CCA in the planula of two common Indo-Pacific coral species (Pocillopora damicornis and Acropora cytherea). Soundscapes from protected reefs significantly increased the phonotaxis of planulae of both species towards live CCA, especially when compared to boat noise. Boat noise playback prevented this preferential selection of live CCA as a settlement substrate. These results suggest that sources of anthropogenic noise such as motor boat can disrupt the settlement behaviours of coral planulae. Acoustic cues should be accounted for when developing management strategies aimed at maximizing larval recruitment to coral reefs.
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