Microorganisms play an important role in the health of coral reefs, yet exploring these connections can be difficult
A new study compared seawater from protected coral reefs of Cuba and reefs in the busy Florida Keys. Scientists found that microbial life in areas away from people were markedly healthier and more diverse.
“Human impacts such as overfishing and pollution lead to changes in reef structure,” says Laura Weber, lead author of the paper. Reefs with lower nutrient runoff from farming and carbon from industrial activities are more balanced chemically.
A healthy reef provides home to a diverse group of marine animals, including herbivores that in turn help control algal growth. “Removal of algae grazers such as herbivorous fish and sea urchins leads to increases in macroalgae, which then leads to increased organic carbon, contributing to the degradation of coral reefs,” Weber adds.
These findings may aid resource managers in decision making to protect and restore coral reefs in the face of habitat and climate-based change.