Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Human Waste Dumped in Oceans Harms Coral

Dead coral, Elbow Reef, Key Largo, Florida. Photo courtesy: HalBrindley.com

Now, here's a shocker! Human waste is damaging fragile coral beds. Anyone who has been a parent knows exactly how corrosive human waste can be. Diaper rash is the result of the infant's skin being held against a corrosive substance by the diaper. BTW, fresh air is the best remedy for this. Clean affected areas gently and thoroughly. Pat the infant dry, apply some corn starch and allow 1/2 - 1 hour of undiapered time. But, I digress. On with the story.

Elkhorn coral is endangered. And it's being threatened by us, as in humans, and what we flush down the toilet.

A recent study published in the journal PLoS One says that human sewage is largely responsible for a disease which is killing off elkhorn coral in Florida. It's called white pox disease, and at least one scientist argues that the problem goes far beyond the Sunshine State, and is likely contributing to coral decline worldwide.

Well, no crap. Or maybe too much crap. The Nature Conservancy has more on the subject.

Apparently, coral reef specialists have long suspected this was the case. The study examined elkhorn coral in Caribbean Sea off of Florida. Researchers isolated a people poop pathogen --- Serratia marcescens --- that causes white pox on the elkhorn, AKA Acropora palmata. This species of coral has declined by almost 90 percent in the last 10 years in http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifFlorida. White pox leaves white, circular lesions on the surface of infected colonies, and can take out a colony in a matter of days, according to NOAA.

An abstract for the PLoS One study says:
Stephanie Wear, director of coral reef conservation for the Nature Conservancy's Global Marine Team, says the issue of human waste ending up in oceans is "pervasive throughout small island nations globally."
She's lived in the Caribbean, and says it's not all paradise. There is ongoing contamination from failing septic systems and overflows, much like we have here in the Great Lakes and other parts of the U.S. And just as human sewage can close a beach, it can do damage to coral. Even though this finding may not be a surprise, it's helped isolate at least one cause of coral decline.

What's the solution? Better treatment and socioeconomic conditions. Too many folks still use the oceans as their toilet (and the rivers and lakes, depending on where you live).

Still, humans, who are contributing to this species decline, also can contribute to healthy oceans, Wear says. See the Cool Green Science blog for more.

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