How microbes reflect the health of coral reefs

A healthy reefscape in the highly-protected Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), Cuba
A healthy reefscape in the highly-protected Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), Cuba
Image: Amy Apprill, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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.

On reefs exposed to runoff from the land, water clarity can be lower when it rains as nutrients flow into the water
On reefs exposed to runoff from the land, water clarity can be lower when it rains as nutrients flow into the water causing some types of algae to bloom
Image: AIMS

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.

Reef animals need different habitats throughout their life cycle so good water quality is important everywhere as shown in the diagram above.
Reef animals need different habitats throughout their life cycle so good water quality is important everywhere as shown in the diagram above.

These findings may aid resource managers in decision making to protect and restore coral reefs in the face of habitat and climate-based change.

SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2, SOURCE 3

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