Sea cucumbers could be key to preserving coral reefs

Jan 31, 2012
Sea cucumbers, such as this Stichopus Herrmanni, can counter the negative effects of ocean acidification through their natural digestive processes

(PhysOrg.com) -- Tropical sea cucumbers could play a key role in saving coral reefs from the devastating effects of climate change, say scientists at One Tree Island, the University of Sydney's research station on the Great Barrier Reef.

"We have found that sea cucumbers play a vital role in reducing the harmful impact of ocean acidification on coral growth," said Professor Maria Byrne, the director of One Tree Island Research Station.

"When they ingest sand, the natural digestive processes in the sea cucumber's gut increases the pH levels of the water on the reef where they defecate, countering the negative effects of ," said Professor Byrne.

One of the by-products of the sea cucumber's digestion of sand is calcium carbonate (CaCO3) a key component of coral. To survive, coral reefs must accumulate CaCO3 at a rate greater than or equal to the CaCO3 that is eroded from the reef.

"The research at One Tree Island showed that in a healthy reef, dissolution of calcium carbonate sediment by sea cucumbers and other bioeroders appears to be an important component of the natural calcium carbonate turnover," said Professor Byrne.

"The ammonia waste produced when sea cucumbers digest sand also serves to fertilise the surrounding area, providing nutrients for coral growth," she added.

The research, recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, was carried out by an international group of scientists from the University of Sydney, the Carnegie Institute for Science, Stanford, and several other institutions studying the impact of climate change on .

Sea cucumbers are among the largest invertebrates found on . Some 30 species are commercially harvested by the fishery industry along the and throughout the tropics.

"We urgently need to understand the impact of removing sea cucumbers and other invertebrates on reef health and resilience at a time when reefs face an uncertain future," Professor Byrne said.

Explore further: Madagascar to drain crude from stricken tanker

Provided by University of Sydney

5 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sea cucumbers: Dissolving coral reefs?

Dec 22, 2011

Coral reefs are extremely diverse ecosystems that support enormous biodiversity. But they are at risk. Carbon dioxide emissions are acidifying the ocean, threatening reefs and other marine organisms. New research led by Carnegie's ...

Increased acidity not an even test for coral reefs

Nov 10, 2011

Coral reefs can both positively and negatively influence the acidity of their surrounding seawater. That is the take-home message of two papers recently published in the international journal Global Change Bi ...

Recommended for you

Madagascar to drain crude from stricken tanker

8 hours ago

Madagascar will during the weekend pump crude from a tanker that ran aground a week ago off its picturesque northern coast to prevent a spill, maritime authorities said Thursday.

Study links California drought to global warming

9 hours ago

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...

Untangling Brazil's controversial new forest code

11 hours ago

Approved in 2012, Brazil's new Forest Code has few admirers. Agricultural interests argue that it threatens the livelihoods of farmers. Environmentalists counter that it imperils millions of hectares of forest, ...

China toughens environment law to target polluters

11 hours ago

China on Thursday passed the first amendment to its environment protection law in 25 years, imposing tougher penalties on polluters after the government called for a "war" on pollution.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Howhot
not rated yet Jan 31, 2012
On a coral reef dive, I saw one of the creatures. Amazing. Just jaw dropping how colorful they are.

More news stories

Untangling Brazil's controversial new forest code

Approved in 2012, Brazil's new Forest Code has few admirers. Agricultural interests argue that it threatens the livelihoods of farmers. Environmentalists counter that it imperils millions of hectares of forest, ...

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.