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Science News: An overlooked threat to coral

– G.A., Senior Editor

The health of the world’s coral reefs has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years. Substantial bleaching events have caused widespread damage leading some to fear that these delicate ecosystems may disappear in the near future.

In an effort to address the health of coral reefs, the Governor of the State of Hawaii, David Ige, has signed a law that will ban the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals known to be harmful to coral in the state of Hawaii beginning in 2021. While the effects of coral-damaging chemicals and climate change have been featured in the popular media, a recent study published in Nature highlights the damaging impact of land-based rat populations on aquatic coral ecosystems.

The researchers found that islands with rat populations had smaller seabird populations and that the smaller number of seabirds resulted in lower levels of nutrients in coastal waters. By killing seabirds, the rats prevent the accumulation of seabird droppings, which contribute valuable nutrients to nearby coral reef ecosystems.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend completely eradicating rats from islands to benefit not only terrestrial ecosystems, but also improve the health of coral reefs by allowing nutrients from seabird droppings to be returned to the ocean.

Coral reefs symbolize both the interconnectedness and delicacy of our environment. As researchers continue to identify new factors that can affect ecosystems, we must remain aware that even small-scale changes in our environment can have a wide impact.

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