Overfishing Unleashes a Scourge of Sea Urchins on Reefs
February 28, 2012
"Coral reefs can't seem to catch a break. Not only is ocean acidification -- the "other" CO2 problem -- threatening huge chunks of the world's coral, but overfishing may also destroy reefs.
A new study published in the journal Coral Reefs describes the connection between healthy fish populations and health reefs off the coast of Kenya. According to the research, overfishing near coral reefs doesn't just keep fish populations low. It stunts coral growth, too.
When numbers of predatory fish -- which are often larger and more prized by fishers -- drop, the sea urchin populations explode. These spiny sea creatures graze heavily on coral, damaging their structure and consuming a type of algae that helps reefs develop. Crustose coralline algae contains calcium carbonate in its cell walls and hardens onto corals, helping solidify and stabilize the reef. Too much fishing, too many urchins, too little algae ... so long, reef."
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