Sea cucumbers could protect endangered corals

February 1st, 2012 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Feb 1 (IANS) Tropical sea cucumbers could protect coral reefs from the devastating effects of climate change, a new finding says.

“We have found that sea cucumbers play a vital role in reducing the harmful impact of ocean acidification on coral growth,” said Maria Byrne, professor and director, One Tree Island Research Station of the University of Sydney on the Great Barrier Reef.

One of the by-products of the sea cucumber’s digestion of sand is calcium carbonate (CaCO3) a key component of coral. To survive, coral reefs must accumulate CaCO3 at a rate greater than or equal to the CaCO3 that is eroded from the reef, the Journal of Geophysical Research reports.

“The research at One Tree Island showed that in a healthy reef, dissolution of calcium carbonate sediment by sea cucumbers and other bioeroders appears to be an important component of the natural calcium carbonate turnover,” said Byrne, according to a Sydney statement.

“The ammonia waste produced when sea cucumbers digest sand also serves to fertilise the surrounding area, providing nutrients for coral growth,” she added.

The research was carried out by a group of scientists from the University of Sydney, the Carnegie Institute for Science, Stanford, and several other institutions studying the impact of climate change on coral reefs.

Sea cucumbers are among the largest invertebrates found on tropical reefs. Some 30 species are commercially harvested by the fishery industry along the Great Barrier Reef and throughout the tropics.

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