[Coral-List] Please somebody, eat these slimy cyanobacteria all over the reefs

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 22 12:23:41 EST 2008

Dear Tom,

Well, I can’t set the Diadema loose, at least not in the
wild at this point. It used to be that one could pretty much do as one wished
with release of farmed and/or exotic animals into natural waters. I recall back
in the early 60’s (Ah, those were the days when, with a shiny new BS from FSU, you
could pass a state test, and be an ichthyologist and a fishery biologist all in
a couple of weeks) when the commercial fishing interests from the rural
counties controlled the State Legislature and most anything went if it seemed
to have the potential to advance the yield of the commercial fisheries. Back
then we wanted to enhance the commercial fisheries of Florida
Bay and so the Director at that time
imported about 200 live Samoan crabs, Scylla serrata, and released them in the
southwest area of north Florida
 Bay. The introduction did
not succeed, fortunately, but there were a few very surprised crab fishermen
that found themselves challenged for control of their boat by a fast moving crab
with a two foot claw spread. 


Times have changed and an introduction of exotic (well that’s
not going happen any more, at least not by design) or hatchery reared animals
into the wild for fishery or environmental enhancement requires a great deal of
ecological and biological research. The mantra of the medical profession, First
Do No Harm, is now the uppermost concern. The need has to be demonstrated, the
organisms have be shown to be free of all disease and of a genetic composition
that will not change the genotype of the naturally occurring populations. This
is all a very scientific, expensive, and time consuming process, but it can and
is being done with a variety of animals. Mote Marine Laboratory is in forefront
of this work, they understand the scientific requirements for stock enhancement
and they are also working with me on Diadema research. Things are on the upswing, however. We had a Diadema workshop, sponsored by Mote, recently in Key West and many scientists are now working together to advance research into to possibility of restoring the key herbivore, Diadema, to Florida reefs.

I’m sure that in the case of Diadema, it must seem that I’m
a broken record (for you younger folks this refers to the old vinyl records where
the needle would skip a groove and repeat a note endlessly) in my quest to
stimulate research into investigating the potential to use of these urchins in Atlantic
coral reef research and ecological restoration. But Diadema are a very valuable tool in the arsenal
of coral reef management that should be aggressively researched. Sure, return
of this urchin, if it can be done, won’t solve all the problems, but if populations
of normal, before the plague densities, can be restored and maintained, even on
only a few small areas, these areas will be living coral reef laboratories for
ecological research, areas where coals can settle and grow without gross macro algae
competition, areas that due to a healthier ecology would be more resilient to
decline, and hopefully serve as areas that can contribute reproductively to
broader areas. So this is what I choose to work on, at least as long as what I
do is constructive, and until there are once again serious, well funded,
research efforts in this direction. Tom Capo, and Alina and Margret, began this culture work a number of years ago but there have been no culture efforts except for my dabbling since then. I have had number of forced spawns and two
natural spawns of captive brood stock and last year I got consistent survival of
large numbers of larvae up to 24 days or so (up to over 80,000), to the
beginning of the development of the adult rudiment, and a goodly number of
larvae to the point of metamorphosis and one through to the juvenile stage. This
is a good beginning, and I think now I have an understanding of what is needed in
the way of physical and nutritional requirements for large scale culture and
hopefully, if I’m right, we will have the basic elements in place for large
scale culture some time this year.


Incidentally, I don’t think that Diadema need to be able to
eat a particular alga to keep it from overgrowing open substrates when they are
present in normal population densities. (OK, what’s a “normal” density? In my opinion,
it depends on the geology and ecology and physical structure of the area, but
certainly at or greater than 1 per sq. meter.) In my tanks there is no growth
of any algae on the rocks or the sides of the tank despite an apparently high nutrient load, and on the few reef areas
where large numbers are present algae growth is much reduced. That said, my tanks are not the reef. Natural reef areas, with their highly variable human impacts and nutrient components cannot all be put in the same basket. Diadema would be helpful in many instances and not so in others. There are so very
many research and restoration projects that can be done with Diadema, projects
that will help us better understand coral reef ecology and help in restoration
efforts, but first there has to be a very large supply of healthy, reef
competent juveniles available for such work.


----- Original Message ----
From: Thomas Goreau <goreau at bestweb.net>
To: Todd Barber-Clear <reefball at reefball.com>
Cc: coral-list coral-list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Sent: Sunday, January 20, 2008 3:01:33 PM
Subject: [Coral-List] Please somebody, eat these slimy cyanobacteria all over the reefs

Dear Todd,

I fully agree with you (almost all aquaria except the very cleanest  
have them), except for these little worms that seem to thrive in it  
(Nematodes?). But where are they when we really need them?

You can see cyanobacteria spreading almost everyplace with known  
nutrient inputs, and it is getting steadily worse every place I go.   
The top-down herrbivory control folks can't explain these blooms:  
wherever you find them without an obvious nutrient source there are  
almost always subtle nutrient sources that you hadn't yet recognized.  
I use them in many resort areas to tell me exactly where the septic  
tanks are leaching through the beach or bedrock, for example in  
resort islands in the Maldives or in front of the hotels in Bonaire.  
In Southeast Florida they don't only mark the sewage outfalls: Dan  
Clark has found they allow you to pinpoint precisely where the deep  
well injected sewage is coming up through cracks in the overlying  
formations above the "boulder zone" and starting to kill reefs from  
the offshore side.

A few years ago in Grand Cayman I found that North Sound was being  
killed by nutrients leaching from the garbage dump and golf course  
fertilizers, that the western area in front of 5 Mile Beach had large  
round patches of cyanobacteria on the sand that were certainly where  
the septic tank drainage was finding its way into the sea, and that  
the northwest was being killed by weedy algae and coral diseases  
where all the turtle farm effluent flowed into the sea, perhaps soon  
to be made worse with captive dolphin poop. And there were  
cyanobacterial blooms on the staghorn corals on the south side too.  
There was no place I looked at without an algae problem. So the  
Department of the Environment decided to cheer me up with a last dive  
on their very best reefs, far from any human impact, on the  
northeast. The shoreline was completely free of weedy algae, but the  
deeper we went to the drop off, the worse the cyanobacteria blooms  
were. My DOE colleagues were shocked, they had never seen that before  
at their favorite dive site. I think it was just their bad luck to  
have taken me there after an upwelling event of nutrients from below  
the thermocline, which is known to be driven by seasonal internal  
wave breaking by solitons propagating across the Caribbean along the  
pycnocline density boundary......

I agree with you, the only way we know to control them is to starve  
them of nutrients! Unless someone finds a cunning parasite, virus,  
or  other way of killing them economically without side effects?

Best wishes,

On Jan 20, 2008, at 2:24 PM, Todd Barber-Clear wrote:

> Hi Tom,
> Cyanobacteria is a VERY common problem in salt water marine reef  
> tanks.  It quite simply happens in tanks that don't have the best  
> filters.  The Reef Ball Coral Team uses the presence of  
> Cyanobacteria in our biological monitoring work as one of the most  
> precise measurements of general water quality.  It corelates better  
> to man made pollution run off (especially sewage and fert. run off)  
> than even an accurate Mott test kit for ammonias/nitrates/nitrites  
> (probably because biological sensors are not a point reading but a  
> continous one).
> Cyanobacteria are notoriously "untastey" to others so I doubt we  
> will find a predator to take them out.  The only way to control  
> Cyanobateria in an aquarium is to improve water quality or  
> completely starve it from silicates (something you could never do  
> in an the real ocean).  NOBODY has found any marine life that could  
> exist in an aquarium that will eat the stuff that we have ever  
> encountered.
> In fact, Cyanobacteria once ruled the planet and have kept their  
> successful primative form munching on basic chemical energy sources  
> combined with the sun.  It is helpful to think of any mass of  
> cyanobacteria to be a smoking gun for a (perhaps nearby) point  
> source of human pollution (especially sewage or fertilizer run off).
> Thanks,
> Todd R. Barber
> Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation
> 252-353-9094
> Skype name: toddbarber
> Cell Phone 941-720-7549
> 3305 Edwards Court
> Greenville, NC 27858
> Inbox protected by ClearMyMail
> www.ClearMyMail.com {c2509d95650d4b87a5a76fe30c468363}
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Thomas Goreau
> To: Todd Barber
> Cc: coral-list coral-list
> Sent: Sunday, January 20, 2008 12:12 PM
> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Set the Diadema loose!
> Dear Todd,
> Thanks for these observations. The rapid spread of cyanobacteria  
> may be helped along by the refusal of Diadema to eat it, eventually  
> resulting in Diadema starving out. The surgeon fish seem to avoid  
> the cyanobacteria in Barbados too.
> Dan and Stephanie Clark who worked with volunteer divers to haul  
> huge masses of cyanobacteria of reefs in Broward County, Florida, a  
> few years ago, found them full of some sort of thin white  
> worms........
> Best wishes,
> Tom
> On Jan 20, 2008, at 11:38 AM, Todd Barber wrote:
>> Hi Tom,
>> Just my two cents worth but Diadema will not eat cyanobacteria.   
>> (At least in captivity even when there are no other food sources  
>> present. My experiance is with the red and near black varieties of  
>> cyanobacteria).
>> -Todd
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Thomas Goreau"  
>> <goreau at bestweb.net>
>> To: "Martin Moe" <martin_moe at yahoo.com>
>> Cc: "coral-list coral-list" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>;  
>> "Reef Rescue" <Etichscuba at aol.com>; "Henry Breck" <hrbreck at the- 
>> ark.com>; "Eliane Polack" <elianepolack at caribserve.net>
>> Sent: Saturday, January 19, 2008 10:03 AM
>> Subject: [Coral-List] Set the Diadema loose!
>> Dear Martin,
>> Andrew Ross says that at Doctors Cave near Montego Bay, Trididemnum
>> solidum and Echinometra occur in the same habitat, but are mutually
>> exclusive, so maybe there is something to this.....
>> It will be very interesting to use your pet Diadema herd for
>> experiments! I really hope that they eat every bit of Trididemnum
>> solidum that they encounter, but I wonder if it is just too toxic
>> them. One of our reef restoration sites, in Sint Maarten, has very
>> dense Diadema populations, and there is Trididemnum solidum there
>> too, but not yet too bad.....
>> Another place where you need to set your Diadema loose and see what
>> they do, is on the slimy cyanobacteria that is taking over wherever
>> there is much nutrients from sewage and other sources. SE Florida
>> vast patches of this killing corals , spreading outward from the
>> sewage outfalls, and waxing and waning as they change the amount of,
>> ummm, ordure (Jim, that's not a banned word yet is it?), that they
>> pump out, as Ed Tichenor has definitively shown.
>> Wayne Hunte told me in 1994 that Diadema had recovered to around two
>> thirds of their pre 1983 densities in Barbados, and you could see
>> that they and the huge parrotfish everywhere (which Bajans don't
>> eat)  got rid of the macrophytes but could not control the turf that
>> was eaten and grew back every day. In the last 5-6 years (according
>> to Angelique Brathwaite of the Barbados Coastal Zone Management
>> the turf has disappeared, and been replaced by slimy cyanobacteria
>> (not the same one killing SE Florida reefs and the areas around the
>> dolphin pens in Cozumel, another species), and the Diadema have
>> disappeared. The parrotfish don't seem to touch the stuff, and I'm
>> wondering if the new disappearance of Diadema is another plague or
>> they have been starved out because they won't touch the main algae
>> that is there now?
>> By the way, despite much urban mythology, Diadema die off had
>> to do with the spread of algae over the reef in Jamaica, which was
>> caused by eutrophication that coincidentally occurred spanning the
>> Diadema die off in the Discovery Bay area, but which happened long
>> before and long after in other parts of Jamaica:
>> T. J. Goreau, 1992, Bleaching and reef community change in Jamaica:
>> AMERICAN ZOOLOGIST, 32: 683-695.
>> Best wishes,
>> Tom
>> On Jan 19, 2008, at 9:04 AM, Martin Moe wrote:
>>> I might be able to do this, I have a brood stock of 19 large and
>>> healthy Diadema and it would be possible to collect a bit of
>>> Trididemnum and see what happens to it in the tank. The result
>>> wouldn't be directly applicable to what might happen on the reef,
>>> but it would be a clue. If I get a chance to do this, I'll let you
>>> know what happens.
>>> Martin
>>> ----- Original Message ----
>>> From: Thomas Goreau <goreau at bestweb.net>
>>> To: andrew ross <andyroo_of72 at yahoo.com>
>>> Cc: Martin Moe <martin_moe at yahoo.com>
>>> Sent: Thursday, January 17, 2008 5:20:33 PM
>>> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] tunicates
>>> Echinometra does not go deep enough to be in Tridemnum habitat.
>>> I very much doubt the Diadema control hypothesis, but it would be
>>> interesting to put some Diadema on a bit of Trididemnum and see
>>> what happens. I hope Martin can try this.
>>> On Jan 17, 2008, at 3:29 PM, andrew ross wrote:
>>>> I'm not seeing this tunicate on Echinometra viridis
>>>> colonized/cleaned reef areas. Areas without this
>>>> urchin/with (plenty of) algae loaded with it. Diadema
>>>> control makes sense.
>>>> Also Echinometra areas have less/no boring sponges
>>>> either.
>>>> Andrew
>>>> --- Martin Moe <martin_moe at yahoo.com> wrote:
>>>>> I've been following the tunicate thread with great
>>>>> interest.
>>>>> Seems that what's needed to keep them under control
>>>>> would be an organism that
>>>>> actually cleans the rock, something that can scrape
>>>>> and feed on just about anything
>>>>> that is attached to the upper levels of the
>>>>> substrate, something that even if
>>>>> it couldn't actually consume the organism itself
>>>>> might be able to keep its
>>>>> growth in check and keep it from invading open
>>>>> substrates. Too bad that
>>>>> there isn't anything like that on the western
>>>>> Atlantic reefs today, at least
>>>>> not in numbers adequate to do this housekeeping over
>>>>> extensive areas. But wait,
>>>>> maybe Diadema could do that job, as well keep algae
>>>>> growth under control, if
>>>>> they were abundant once again.  Diadema may
>>>>> or may not have had an impact on tunicate growth
>>>>> when they were abundant, I have not seen any studies
>>>>> on that, but they
>>>>> were so critical in shaping and maintaining the
>>>>> ecology of these reefs over
>>>>> great expanses of time that their loss has
>>>>> implications for the reefs far
>>>>> beyond just algae control. There could be an
>>>>> interesting graduate thesis in such a study. Too be
>>>>> sure, return of Diadema wouldn’t solve all
>>>>> the problems facing these reefs in these perilous
>>>>> times, but if Diadema could
>>>>> be returned to the reefs, they would be an essential
>>>>> element to whatever ecological restoration
>>>>> of our coral reefs is possible.
>>>>> Martin Moe
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> Coral-List mailing list
>>>>> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>>>> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
>>>> __
>>>> _______________
>>>> Never miss a thing.  Make Yahoo your home page.
>>>> http://www.yahoo.com/r/hs
>>> Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
>>> President
>>> Global Coral Reef Alliance
>>> 37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
>>> 617-864-4226
>>> goreau at bestweb.net
>>> http://www.globalcoral.org
>> Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
>> President
>> Global Coral Reef Alliance
>> 37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
>> 617-864-4226
>> goreau at bestweb.net
>> http://www.globalcoral.org
>> _______________________________________________
>> Coral-List mailing list
>> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
> Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
> President
> Global Coral Reef Alliance
> 37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
> 617-864-4226
> goreau at bestweb.net
> http://www.globalcoral.org

Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
Global Coral Reef Alliance
37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
goreau at bestweb.net

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