19 June 2024
Sea cucumbers: Coral's unsung heroes

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Sea Cucumbers: Unsung Heroes of Coral Protection

Coral reefs, often described as the rainforests of the sea, are vital ecosystems that support a quarter of marine life despite covering less than 1% of the ocean’s area. However, these ecosystems are under threat due to various human activities and coral diseases associated with ocean sediments. In a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the critical role of sea cucumbers in coral health and protection has been uncovered. Sea cucumbers, often overlooked and overharvested for food, have been revealed as essential players in maintaining the balance of coral ecosystems.

The Missing Janitors: Sea Cucumbers as Coral Protectors

Sea cucumbers, small sediment-eating organisms, act as the “janitors” of the ocean floor by consuming bacteria and organics, thereby cleaning the sediment. However, decades of overharvesting have led to their decline, making them rare and slow to recover. The research conducted by Mark Hay and Cody Clements highlighted the significant impact of sea cucumbers on coral health. Their experiments demonstrated that areas devoid of sea cucumbers were more prone to coral diseases, leading to a higher mortality rate among corals. The presence of sea cucumbers suppressed coral diseases, indicating their crucial role in maintaining coral reef ecosystems.

Restoring Balance: Repopulating Sea Cucumbers for Coral Health

The study’s findings underscore the urgent need to limit the harvesting of sea cucumbers and initiate efforts to repopulate these species. Sea cucumbers, which have little commercial value, can be cultured and reintroduced into the ocean to mitigate coral diseases and restore the health of reefs worldwide. By bringing back these vital organisms, not only can coral ecosystems benefit, but the biodiversity and livelihoods of coastal communities can also improve. The researchers emphasize the importance of raising awareness about the value of sea cucumbers and taking proactive steps to protect these essential creatures.

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Published on: February 26, 2024 Description: In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Georgia Tech discovered a crucial missing element that plays a profound role in ...
‘Janitors’ of the Sea: Sea Cucumbers Play Crucial Role in Protecting Coral

Hope for the Future: Preserving Coral and Sea Cucumbers

Despite the challenges posed by human activities such as overfishing, pollution, and global warming, there is still hope for the preservation of coral reefs and sea cucumbers. Mark Hay emphasizes the importance of making small yet impactful changes to improve the situation. By focusing on the significance of sea cucumbers and their role in maintaining healthy coral ecosystems, there is a potential for long-term conservation efforts to succeed. Ultimately, safeguarding these “janitors of the sea” is crucial for the well-being of coral reefs and the marine life they support.

Links to additional Resources:

1. The Conversation: Janitors of the Sea: Overharvested Sea Cucumber Play Crucial Role in Protecting Corals2. National Geograhic: The Great Barrier Reef’s ‘Janitors of the Sea’ Are Under Threat3. Smithsonian Magazine: These Undersea Janitors Play a Crucial Role in the World’s Reefs

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Sea cucumber, Coral reef, Mark Hay

Sea cucumber
Sea cucumbers are echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea ( HOL-ə-thure-OY-dee-ə, HOHL-). They are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad. They are found on the sea floor worldwide. The number of known holothurian ( HOL-ə-THURE-ee-ən, HOHL-) species worldwide is about 1,786, with...
Read more: Sea cucumber

Coral reef
A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. Reefs are formed of colonies of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, whose polyps cluster in groups. Coral belongs to the class Anthozoa in the animal phylum Cnidaria, which includes...
Read more: Coral reef

Mark Hay
Mark Edward Hay (born May 3, 1952) is an American marine ecologist. He is Regents Professor and Harry and Linda Teasley Chair in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is known for his...
Read more: Mark Hay

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