Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles



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Scientific Reports



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Environmental impact, marine biology


Coral reefs are keystone coastal ecosystems that are at risk of exposure to petroleum from a range of sources, and are one of the highest valued natural resources for protection in Net Environmental Benefit Analysis (NEBA) in oil spill response. Previous research evaluating dissolved hydrocarbon impacts to corals reflected no clear characterization of sensitivity, representing an important knowledge gap in oil spill preparedness related to the potential impact of oil spills to the coral animal and its photosymbiont zooxanthellae. This research addresses this gap, using a standardized toxicity protocol to evaluate effects of a dissolved reference hydrocarbon on scleractinian corals. The relative sensitivity of five Atlantic scleractinian coral species to hydrocarbon exposure was assessed with 48-h assays using the reference polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon 1-methylnaphthalene, based on physical coral condition, mortality, and photosynthetic efficiency. The threatened staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis was found to be the most sensitive to 1-methylnaphthalene exposure. Overall, the acute and subacute endpoints indicated that the tested coral species were comparatively more resilient to hydrocarbon exposure than other marine species. These results provide a framework for the prediction of oil spill impacts and impact thresholds on the coral animal and related habitats, essential for informing oil spill response in coastal tropical environments.





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This research was made possible by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, as part of project Coral-Tox: A Species-Sensitivity Assessment of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Toxicity to Scleractinian Corals. We thank D. Bickham, J. Pitschmann, M. Rojano, E. Whitemiller, and E. Young for their assistance with the experiments, and N. Soares-Quinete at FIU for the analysis of 1-methylnaphthalene. We sincerely thank P. Schuler for his support, expertise and advice throughout the development and execution of this project. Experimental corals were collected and retained under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Special Activity License #SAL-18-1994-SRP.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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