Invading land-based microbes could be hurting our coral reefs
Coral reefs are among the most delicate and unique ecosystems on our planet, containing a wide variety of marine life that rely on the reefs for food and protection. However, these days our reefs are under more destructive threats than ever before.
A new study has found that some coral reefs could be experiencing even more damage from invading bacteria and fungi, which may migrate from land-based sources. Outfall from sewage treatment plants and coastal inlets could be the culprit in many cases.
The research, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, points specifically at the reefs off the southeastern coast of Florida. Researchers Chan Lan Chun and Michael Sadowsky – both of the University of Minnesota, Duluth – took water samples from coastal inlets and oceanic outfall effluent that came from water treatment plants along Florida’s southeastern coast. They also retrieved water samples and samples of coral tissues in the reefs.
They found a crossover between specific bacterial species as well as fungal families in both land-based sources and in the water and tissues of the reefs. Along the coastline the scientists studied, the distance from sewage outfall pipes to the reefs ranged from 5.5 to 25 miles.
Sadowsky explained their hypothesis, saying “The [data] we have now strongly suggests that anthropogenic input sources are becoming established on reefs.” Anthropogenic means originating from human activity, so the researchers clearly believe these invasive microbes are a direct result of the nearby sewage runoff. However, more experiments would need to be done to support this hypothesis.
In the meantime, the researchers are worried these microbes will be damaging to nutrient cycling and coral health within the reef. Invaders such as these could easily disrupt the balance of the flora and fauna in this delicate ecosystem.
It remains to be seen if invading microbes will be yet another source of destruction to take down coral reefs. With climate change and coral bleaching already destroying reefs around the world, these ocean ecosystems need our help now more than ever.
By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer