Fish and coral know when a reef has gone bad

By Michelle Kapusta,

Efforts to revitalize coral reefs covered with seaweed just got a little more complicated as researchers suggest that juvenile fish and coral can detect when a reef has gone bad.

According to a report done in Fiji by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, young reef fish and coral may be able to detect healthy reefs verse the seaweed-inundated ones. The study found that the baby fish and coral larvae were attracted to chemicals released by new reefs and repulsed by the chemicals seaweed released on other reefs.

BBC News reported that the fish were given a choice of two water samples in a lab setting and turned away from the chemical cues given off by the seaweed. However, the sea creatures were consistently drawn to the healthy samples.

"If you're setting up a marine protected area to seed recruitment into a degraded habitat, that recruitment may not happen if young fish and coral are not recognizing the degraded area as habitat," said the study’s prime author, Dr. Danielle Dixson of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The findings, published in the journal Science, concluded that conservation efforts should involve removing harmful seaweed from the reefs in order to boost coral populations.

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