The photograph above shows two branches of elkhorn coral growing in the water near Key West, Florida. The brown and bumpy parts of the coral branches are alive and healthy. The white spot on the left branch is infected with the bacteria.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of University of Georgia
Coral killer on the loose: Are coral reefs dying because of our waste?
News story originally written on June 28, 2002
Coral animals may be very little but they are able to build large stony reefs in warm, shallow oceans. Lots of corals together can make a reef that is a home for many other reef creatures.
Now corals are in trouble and new research has found that something even smaller than coral is able to make a big change to Florida’s reefs. Tiny bacteria are responsible for killing many corals in the shallow water reefs near the Florida Keys.
The bacteria are usually found in the guts of people and animals. That means that when you flush the toilet, you have flushed some of these bacteria down the drain with the rest. It doesn’t hurt people, but it does hurt little coral animals.
The bacteria hurt one type of coral, elkhorn coral. There was a lot of elkhorn coral in Florida reefs a few years ago. Now it is hard to find living elkhorn coral in the water near Florida, and it may soon be an endangered species.
Scientists have been looking at the corals near Florida for many years. They could see how the white spots of the disease were killing the corals, but they didn’t know what caused it. Scientist Kathryn Patterson figured that out. She found the bacteria inside the bodies of sick corals.
Researchers still don’t know how the bacteria get into the corals, but they think that pollution is the cause. If water flushed down toilets in southern Florida does not receive proper treatment before it winds up in the ocean, it may contain bacteria that kill corals. The scientists hope that, if we get the bacteria out of the water, elkhorn corals may come back and fill Florida’s reefs again someday.
Last modified August 6, 2002 by Lisa Gardiner.
You might also be interested in:
Scientists say that some coral reefs started to become healthier during 2002, even after they have been damaged for many years. The reefs that are getting healthier are in places that are protected from...more
In 1968 a man named Garrett Hardin wrote a magazine article called "The Tragedy of the Commons." The common that he writes about is a park with a lot of grass. Someone in the town brings his cows to the...more
It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more
The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 29th at 2:19 p.m. EST. The sky was clear and the weather was great. This was the America's 123rd manned space mission. A huge...more
Scientists found a satellite orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is the second one ever! A special telescope allows scientists to look through Earth's atmosphere. The first satellite found was Dactyl....more
The United States wants Russia to put the service module in orbit! The module is part of the International Space Station. It was supposed to be in space over 2 years ago. Russia just sent supplies to the...more
A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on the Sun last month. The material that was thrown out from this explosion passed the ACE spacecraft. ACE measured some exciting things as the CME material passed...more