Marine Biologists Just Found the Key to Saving Coral Reefs—Shark Feces
We all learned in school about the importance of coral reefs and about how they are dying because of global environmental issues. The fix is clearly not one that will happen over night, but a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B may have found a key factor in helping that process along: shark poop.
Scientists at the Imperial College London in collaboration with marine biologists at UC Santa Barbara found that a good source of nutrients for the ecosystem of coral reefs comes from the fecal matter of the apex predators, which in Hawaii's Palmyra Atoll (the setting of the study) would be the 8,300 grey reef sharks.
"Our study shows that large mobile predators such as sharks may be a very important source of nutrients for even the smallest reef creatures, such as corals," said co-author Jennifer Caselle. "The role of sharks as top predators is well understood, but their role as nutrient vectors is far less studied."
By tagging and tracking the movement of the sharks around the atoll, the researchers were able to estimate for the first time the amount of nitrogen that the predators left behind in the unfished coral, which was around 208 pounds each day.
"By foraging for prey in deep pelagic waters, often miles offshore, it's increasingly clear that these mobile predators can act as vital 'nutrient vectors' to shallow reefs, bringing with them precious sources of nutrients like nitrogen, which, in turn, effectively act as a fertilizer for the thousands of other species that call these reef environments home," said senior co-author David Jacoby.
"Coupled with their better-known role as predators, our study underlines another, less obvious role played by reef sharks in improving the resilience of these fragile habitats and again underlines the vital importance of conserving these and other wide-ranging predators."
So the solution is simple: let's start breeding reef sharks for their poop and we can save the world's coral!