Contemporary advances in microfluidic and molecular techniques have enabled coral studies to shift from reef and colony scales to polyp- and molecular-level investigations. Polyp bail-out provides an alternative approach to acquire solitary polyps for studies at finer scales. Although induction of polyp bail-out has been reported in several studies, polyp health after bail-out has not been investigated. In this study, we monitored morphological and genetic changes in Pocillopora acuta polyps after bail-out induced by hyperosmosis. In isosmotic conditions, over 80% of bailed-out polyps survived, of which half regenerated normal polyp morphology within 5 days, including a polarized polyp body, extended tentacles, and a distinguishable oral disk. In contrast, the remaining polyps degenerated into tissue ball-like structures that resemble multicellular aggregates reported in earlier studies. In morphologically recovered polyps, transcriptomic analysis showed that ∼87% of genes altered during bail-out induction recovered from stress status, suggesting resumption of metabolism, cell division, and immunity, while in degenerated polyps, only ∼71% of genes recovered. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction data further demonstrated that genetic recovery of energy production, cell proliferation, and immune response was achieved in morphologically recovered polyps within 3 days after bail-out, but was not fully accomplished in degenerated polyps even after 5 days. Our findings indicate that solitary polyps generated by hyperosmosis-induced bail-out can recover rapidly from physiological stress under laboratory conditions, suggesting that bailed-out polyps could be used as new models for coral research.
During an oil spill, shallow, tropical coral reefs are likely to be simultaneously exposed to high intensities of ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which can exacerbate the toxicity of petroleum oils. While successful recruitment of corals is critical for reef recovery following disturbances, the sensitivity of several early life stages of coral to petroleum hydrocarbons has not been investigated, particularly for UVR co-exposure. Here we present the first dataset on the relative sensitivity of three early life stages (gametes, embryos and planula larvae) in a model broadcast spawning coral species, Acropora millepora, to the dissolved fraction of a heavy fuel oil (HFO), both in the absence and presence of UVR. All early life stages were negatively impacted by HFO exposure but exhibited distinct sensitivities. Larval metamorphosis was the most sensitive endpoint assessed with a 10% effect concentration of 34 μg L−1 total aromatic hydrocarbons (TAH) in the absence of UVR. The impact on fertilisation success was highly dependent on sperm density, while the fragmentation of embryos masked embryo mortality. Larval metamorphosis was conclusively the most reliable endpoint for use in risk assessments of the endpoints investigated. Putative critical target lipid body burdens (CTLBBs) were calculated for each life stages, enabling a comparison of their sensitivities against species in the Target Lipid Model (TLM) database. A. millepora had a putative CTLBB of 4.4 μmol g−1 octanol for larval metamorphosis, indicating it is more sensitive than any species currently included in the TLM database. Coexposure to UVR reduced toxicity thresholds by 1.3-fold on average across the investigated life stages and endpoints. This increase in sensitivity in the presence of UVR highlights the need to incorporate UVR co-exposure (where ecologically relevant) when assessing oil toxicity thresholds, otherwise the risks posed by oil spills to shallow coral reefs are likely to be underestimated.
Artificial Reefs (AR) show a wide diversity and vary in their construction materials, shape and purpose, as illustrated by the present analysis of 127 scientific papers. AR have been deployed for different purposes, including fisheries improvement, ecological restoration of marine habitats, coastal protection or purely scientific research. Statistical analyses using 67 variables allow us to characterize the design, objectives and monitoring strategies used for AR. An effectiveness indicator comprised of three categories (low, moderate and high) was adapted from previous studies and applied to the present dataset in terms of the objectives defined in each scientific paper. The effectiveness of various monitoring approaches was investigated and recommendations were formulated regarding environmental parameters and the assessment of ecological processes as a function of AR type. These analyses showed that inert materials like concrete associated with biomimetic designs increase the benefits of reefs to the local environment. This study also compared effectiveness between the different economic, ecological or scientific objectives of AR projects and reveals that fisheries projects showed the highest efficiencies but points out the weakness of environmental assessments for this type of project. In conclusion, the analyses presented here highlight the need to use a panel of complementary monitoring techniques, independently of the initial purpose of the artificial structures, to properly assess the impact of such structures on the local environment. It is recommended to adopt approaches that associate structural and functional ecology. An improved characterization of the role of AR should be integrated into future assessments, taking into account the complex framework of ecosystem structure and trophic relationships.
Coral bleaching, cyclones, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns seastar, and reduced water quality (WQ) threaten the health and resilience of coral reefs. The cumulative impacts from multiple acute and chronic stressors on “reef State” (i.e., total coral cover) and “reef Performance” (i.e., the deviation from expected rate of total coral cover increase) have rarely been assessed simultaneously, despite their management relevance. We evaluated the dynamics of coral cover (total and per morphological groups) in the Central and Southern Great Barrier Reef over 25 years, and identified and compared the main environmental drivers of State and Performance at the reef level (i.e. based on total coral cover) and per coral group. Using a combination of 25 environmental metrics that consider both the frequency and magnitude of impacts and their lagged effects, we find that the stressors that correlate with State differed from those correlating with Performance. Importantly, we demonstrate that WQ metrics better predict Performance than State. Further, inter-annual dynamics in WQ (here available for a subset of the data) improved the explanatory power of WQ metrics on Performance over long-term WQ averages. The lagged effects of cumulative acute stressors, and to a lesser extent poor water quality, correlated negatively with the Performance of some but not all coral groups. Tabular Acropora and branching non-Acropora were the most affected by water quality demonstrating that group-specific approaches aid in the interpretation of monitoring data and can be crucial for the detection of the impact of chronic pressures. We highlight the complexity of coral reef dynamics and the need of evaluating Performance metrics in order to prioritise local management interventions.
Coral reefs are deteriorating worldwide prompting reef managers and stakeholders to increasingly explore new management tools. Following back-to-back bleaching in 2016/2017, multi-taxa coral nurseries were established in 2018 for the first time on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to aid reef maintenance and restoration at a “high-value” location–Opal Reef–frequented by the tourism industry. Various coral species (n = 11) were propagated within shallow water (ca. 4-7m) platforms installed across two sites characterised by differing environmental exposure–one adjacent to a deep-water channel (Blue Lagoon) and one that was relatively sheltered (RayBan). Growth rates of coral fragments placed onto nurseries were highly variable across taxa but generally higher at Blue Lagoon (2.1–10.8 cm2 month-1 over 12 months) compared to RayBan (0.6–6.6 cm2 month-1 over 9 months). Growth at Blue Lagoon was largely independent of season, except for Acropora tenuis and Acropora hyacinthus, where growth rates were 15–20% higher for December 2018-July 2019 (“warm season”) compared to August-December 2018 (“cool season”). Survivorship across all 2,536 nursery fragments was ca. 80–100%, with some species exhibiting higher survivorship at Blue Lagoon (Acropora loripes, Porites cylindrica) and others at RayBan (A. hyacinthus, Montipora hispida). Parallel measurements of growth and survivorship were used to determine relative return-on-effort (RRE) scores as an integrated metric of “success” accounting for life history trade-offs, complementing the mutually exclusive assessment of growth or survivorship. RRE scores within sites (across species) were largely driven by growth, whereas RRE scores between sites were largely driven by survivorship. The initial nursery phase of coral propagation therefore appears useful to supplement coral material naturally available for stewardship of frequently visited Great Barrier Reef tourism (high-value) sites, but further assessment is needed to evaluate how well the growth rates and survival for nursery grown corals translate once material is outplanted.
For the last six years, the Florida Reef Tract (FRT) has been experiencing an outbreak of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). First reported off the coast of Miami-Dade County in 2014, the SCTLD has since spread throughout the entire FRT with the exception of the Dry Tortugas. However, the causative agent for this outbreak is currently unknown. Here we show how a high-resolution bio-physical model coupled with a modified patch Susceptible-Infectious-Removed epidemic model can characterize the potential causative agent(s) of the disease and its vector. In the present study, the agent is assumed to be transported within composite material (e.g., coral mucus, dying tissues, and/or resuspended sediments) driven by currents and potentially persisting in the water column for extended periods of time. In this framework, our simulations suggest that the SCTLD is likely to be propagated within neutrally buoyant material driven by mean barotropic currents. Calibration of our model parameters with field data shows that corals are diseased within a mean transmission time of 6.45 days, with a basic reproduction number slightly above 1. Furthermore, the propagation speed of the disease through the FRT is shown to occur for a well-defined range of values of a disease threshold, defined as the fraction of diseased corals that causes an exponential growth of the disease in the reef site. Our results present a new connectivity-based approach to understand the spread of the SCTLD through the FRT. Such a method can provide a valuable complement to field observations and lab experiments to support the management of the epidemic as well as the identification of its causative agent.
Coral diseases contribute to the decline of reef communities, but factors that lead to disease are difficult to detect. In the present study, we develop a multi-species model of colony-scale risk for the class of coral diseases referred to as White Syndromes, investigating the role of current or past conditions, including both environmental stressors and biological drivers at the colony and community scales. Investigating 7 years of coral survey data at five sites in Guam we identify multiple environmental and ecological associations with White Syndrome, including a negative relationship between short-term heat stress and White Syndrome occurrence, and strong evidence of increasing size-dependent White Syndrome risk across coral species. Our findings result in a generalized model used to predict colony-scale White Syndrome risk for multiple species, highlighting the value of long-term monitoring efforts to detect drivers of coral disease.
Artificial upwelling (AU) is a novel geoengineering technology that brings seawater from the deep ocean to the surface. Within the context of global warming, AU techniques are proposed to reduce sea surface temperature at times of thermal stress around coral reefs. A computationally fast but coarse 3D Earth System model (3.6° longitude × 1.8° latitude) was used to investigate the environmental impacts of hypothetically implemented AU strategies in the Great Barrier Reef, South China Sea, and Hawaiian regions. While omitting the discussion on sub-grid hydrology, we simulated in our model a water translocation from either 130 or 550 m depth to sea surface at rates of 1 or 50 m3 s–1 as analogs to AU implementation. Under the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 emissions scenario from year 2020 on, the model predicted a prevention of coral bleaching until the year 2099 when AU was implemented, except under the least intense AU scenario (water from 130 m depth at 1 m3 s–1). Yet, intense AU implementation (water from 550 m depth at 50 m3 s–1) will likely have adverse effects on coral reefs by overcooling the surface water, altering salinity, decreasing calcium carbonate saturation, and considerably increasing nutrient levels. Our result suggests that if we utilize AU for mitigating coral bleaching during heat stress, AU implementation needs to be carefully designed with respect to AU’s location, depth, intensity and duration so that undesirable environmental effects are minimized. Following a proper installation and management procedure, however, AU has the potential to decelerate destructive bleaching events and buy corals more time to adjust to climate change.
The frequency of coral bleaching events has been increasing in recent decades due to the temperature rise registered in most regions near the ocean. Their occurrence in the Maldivian Archipelago has been observed in the months following the peak of strong El Niño events. Bleaching has not been uniform, and some reefs have been only marginally impacted. Here, we use satellite observations and a regional ocean model to explore the spatial and temporal variability of sea surface temperatures (SSTs), and quantify the relative magnitude of ENSO-related episodes with respect to the recent warming. In line with other studies, it is confirmed that the long-term trend in SST significantly increases the frequency of stress conditions for the Maldivian corals. It is also found that the interaction between currents and the steep bathymetry is responsible for a local cooling of about 0.2°C in the Archipelago during the warmest season, with respect to the surrounding waters. This cooling largely reduces the frequency of mortality conditions.
Bottom-contact fisheries are unquestionably one of the main threats to the ecological integrity and functioning of deep-sea and circalittoral ecosystems, notably cold-water corals (CWC) and coral gardens. Lessons from the destructive impact of bottom trawling highlight the urgent need to understand how fisheries affect these vulnerable marine ecosystems. At the same time, the impact of other fishing gear and small-scale fisheries remains sparsely known despite anecdotal evidence suggesting their impact may be significant. This study aims to provide baseline information on coral bycatch by bottom-set gillnets used by artisanal fisheries in Sagres (Algarve, southwestern Portugal), thereby contributing to understand the impact of the activity but also the diversity and abundance of corals in this region. Coral bycatch frequency and species composition were quantified over two fishing seasons (summer-autumn and spring) for 42 days. The relationship with fishing effort was characterized according to métiers (n = 6). The results showed that 85% of the gillnet deployments caught corals. The maximum number of coral specimens per net was observed in a deployment targeting Lophius budegassa (n = 144). In total, 4,326 coral fragments and colonies of 22 different species were captured (fishing depth range of 57–510 m, mean 139 ± 8 m). The most affected species were Eunicella verrucosa (32%), Paramuricea grayi (29%), Dendrophyllia cornigera (12%), and Dendrophyllia ramea (6%). The variables found to significantly influence the amount of corals caught were the target species, net length, depth, and mesh size. The 22 species of corals caught as bycatch belong to Orders Alcyonacea (80%), Scleractinia (18%), Zoantharia (1%), and Antipatharia (1%), corresponding to around 13% of the coral species known for the Portuguese mainland coast. These results show that the impact of artisanal fisheries on circalittoral coral gardens and CWC is potentially greater than previously appreciated, which underscores the need for new conservation measures and alternative fishing practices. Measures such as closure of fishing areas, frequent monitoring onboard of fishing vessels, or the development of encounter protocols in national waters are a good course of action. This study highlights the rich coral gardens of Sagres and how artisanal fisheries can pose significant threat to corals habitats in certain areas.