Caribbean
Peter Edmunds / California State University Northridge

Caribbean Coral Reefs Under Siege From Aggressive Algae

An aggressive, golden-brown, crust-like alga is rapidly overgrowing shallow reefs, taking the place of coral that was damaged by extreme storms and exacerbating the damage caused by human activity

Baltimore, MD--Human activity endangers coral health around the world. A new algal threat is taking advantage of coral's already precarious situation in the Caribbean and making it even harder for reef ecosystems to grow.

Just-published research in Scientific Reports details how an aggressive, golden-brown, crust-like alga is rapidly overgrowing shallow reefs, taking the place of coral that was damaged by extreme storms and exacerbating the damage caused by ocean acidification, disease, pollution, and bleaching.

For the past four years, the University of Oxford's Bryan Wilson, Carnegie's Chen Ming Fan, and California State University Northridge's Peter Edmunds have been studying the biology and ecology of peyssonnelid algal crusts, or PAC, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are out-competing coral larvae for limited surface space and then growing over the existing reef architecture, greatly damaging these fragile ecosystems.

"This alga seems to be something of an ecological winner in our changing world," described lead author Wilson, noting that the various other threats to coral communities make them more susceptible to the algal crusts.

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