In 1994, Disney release The Lion King to thunderous applause and immediately created a new cultural phenomenon. During the movie, there is a full song titled “Circle of Life” that harmonizes the importance of having a balanced eco-system and without that balance, the eco-system will fall apart.
Now almost 25 years later, we have seen countless events in nature devastated by the impact of an imbalanced eco-system due to human activity and now, new research has highlighted how overfishing is allowing ‘coral ticks’ to ravage and help increase the rate of coral reef loss.
The ‘coral tick’, which is actually a sea snail, has been studied by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and they are looking at how the snail is wearing the already damaged reef. The study, published in Ecological Applications, found that the snail could reduce the growth of an important coral species, Porites cylindrica. The Porites coral provides one of the most importance foundation for reefs and reef building, as it is less likely to be damaged by seaweed and other threats.
“The Porites coral is kind of the last man standing, the last hope for some of these reefs coming back, and they are the ones these snails selectively prey on,” Mark Hay, a professor at Georgia Tech and author on the paper, said in a statement. “As you get fewer and fewer corals, the snails focus on the fewer and fewer of these colonies that remain. This is part of the downward spiral of the reefs.”
The researchers found a distinct link between the number of fish in an area and the number of coral in Fiji’s coral coast. On a single colony in areas where fishing is not permitted, researchers never found more than five snails. In areas where fishing is allowed, they found 35 times more snails on the coral.
The importance of managing fish populations, especially on coral reefs, can not be understated. Fish are known to keep seaweed and predators under control which in turn, allow coral habitats to grow out and flourish.
To see how the larger amounts of snails affected the coral, researchers attached snails to isolated coral branches. They compared these branches to branches with no snails after 24 days. Depending on the snail size, the coral’s growth reduced by 18 to 43 percent
“A single snail can do a considerable amount of damage,” co-author Cody Clements said in a statement. “They are sucking the juice out of the coral. If you have a lot of snails feeding on a single coral colony, it can be very hard for the colony to thrive.”
Coral reefs already are in severe jeopardy and many professionals are already concerned most reefs in the world will be lost in the next few decades. Coral is heavily feeling the impact of climate change as warming ocean temperatures are causing coral bleaching which typically kills the coral in an event. Other factors such as pollution, invasive species and coastal development has also played a large factor in the lost of reefs around the world. In 2016, half of the northern Great Barrier Reef was lost due to coral bleaching.