Eutrophication Causes Abundance Of Algae Blooms On Hawaiian Reefs

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A healthy table coral (Acropora pulchra). Via Albert Kok/Wikipedia
John Virata

Scientists studying fibropapillomatosis in the green sea turtle in Hawaiian waters have found an interesting fact that may have implications on those opposed to marine fish collection off West Hawaii and other locations in the islands. While anti-aquarium activists opposed to the collection of reef fish in Hawaii have constantly blamed the sustainable practice on the decimation of the state’s reefs and the demise of many popular reef fish, they have failed to place the blame where it largely belongs.

In scientific circles, urban and agricultural runoff has long been seen as the culprit that has contributed to the demise of coral reefs as well as the explosive growth of algae in Hawaiian waters. A study published in PeerJ, “Eutrophication and the dietary promotion of sea turtle tumors” points to the direct cause of fibropapillomatosis, which is, no surprise to those who follow the science, caused by urban and agricultural runoff.

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This runoff is heavy in nitrogen, nutrients, detergents, fertilizers, sewage and other chemicals that cause algae blooms on the state’s reefs and local waters, algae that the sea turtles eat and blankets the reefs. In fact there is a term for it, eutrophication. The study’s authors say that this eutrophication has caused algae blooms that have drastically altered the composition of the state’s reefs and the animals that live on the reefs. Couple this with a non-native macro algae that was introduced into Hawaiian waters in the 1950s and that is a potential recipe for disaster for the state’s reef systems, its inhabitants, and the turtles that eat the algae.

The authors say that the eutrophication of the coastal waters is also directly associated with the decline of coral reefs in the Hawaiian Islands, including the decline of Porites corals in Hawaii, one of the most important families of reef building corals in the state. Scientists have found coral tumors similar to those found on green sea turtles in the same water.

The complete study, Eutrophication and the dietary promotion of sea turtle tumors can be found on the PeerJ website.

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