Capstone Title

The Effects of Nutrient Pollution on Coral Reef Communities

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Curtis Burney

Second Advisor

Richard E. Dodge


Hermatypic (reef building) corals produce massive skeletons that collectively form the limestone framework of tropical reefs. Coral reefs are diverse as well as productive biological communities which thrive in shallow marine environments. Community structure of the corals appears to be physically controlled by environmental parameters such as light, temperature, wave action, sedimentation, water quality, and nutrients. Coral reef organisms are usually stenotypic, exhibiting a relatively narrow range of tolerance within these environmental conditions.

Reef building corals are adapted to live in oligotrophic (low nutrient) environments, and are particularly susceptible to nutrient loading. Excess nutrients supplied to coastal marine ecosystems may include nitrogen and phosphorous. The transport and transformation of these nutrients into coral reef communities are increasing as a result of anthropogenic (human-induced) activities. Some anthropogenic activities increase the nutrient supply to coastal waters via organic and inorganic pollution from sewage, groundwater seepage, and agricultural runoff; the effects of which may include eutrophication, changes in animal-algal symbiosis, shifts in competitive interaction, physiological alterations, and a decline in coral growth rate.

Anthropogenic activities which produce excess nutrients near coastal waters are a major threat to coral communities throughout the world. In particular, the effects of added nutrient-enrichment are currently posing a serious threat to the vitality of coral reef ecosystems found adjacent to the Florida coast. This paper identifies sources, of water quality degradation, which include sewage, groundwater, and runoff, in South Florida's coastal waters, that my be adversely affecting hermatypic coral communities.

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