Species that dominated Caribbean coral reefs only twenty years ago are now functionally extinct. Little is know about the factors that promote marine diseases, but it is suspected that human activities have altered the environment, subsequently promoting disease epidemics and coral die offs.
In the December issue of Ecology Letters, Bruno, Petes, Harvell, and Hettinger report that nutrient pollution can increase the severity of coral diseases. The research team performed field experiments on Mexican reefs off the Yucatan Peninsula, currently threatened by coastal development. Their results indicate that even modest nutrient pollution can increase the mortality of three important Caribbean corals by facilitating disease spread.
This research suggests that further steps should be taken to reduce nutrient pollution from sources including agricultural runoff, sewage pollution, and deforestation.